When it comes to wearable devices, one might immediately think of fitness trackers or smart watches. While both can have benefits for health, such as monitoring activity levels or keeping track of nutrition, a recent prototype demonstrated wearable devices can also help those with Parkinson’s disease.
Haiyan Zhang, a Microsoft researcher, designed and prototyped a wearable device to help a graphic designer, Emma Lawton, with the tremors from her Parkinson’s disease. Zhang has a background in design, and so the design element of the device became an important part of the project. The prototype presented to Lawton is modern-looking and could be mistaken for a generic wearable.
Dubbed “Emma’s Watch”, the wearable device consists of several vibrating motors similar to the ones found in smartphones. Paired with an app on a mobile device, the vibrating motors react and respond to hand tremors with a custom profile. More research must be done to fully understand how the watch's vibrations are able to help wearers steady their movements but, so far, Zhang has found that different people respond better to different patterns of vibrations.
The outcome isn’t perfect, as Lawton reports that applying eyeliner and typing still remain difficult—but drawing and writing have become possible again with the device.
Currently, the watch is undergoing medical trials for which Lawton is a consultant, providing feedback on her experiences with Emma’s Watch.
Health Monitoring Integrated into Ford Vehicles
It may seem like an odd combination, but Ford Motors is currently considering the ways in which its vehicles can be outfitted to provide its drivers with health and wellness information. Considering how much time the average person tends to spend in their vehicles, commuting to and from work or otherwise, perhaps it isn't such an unlikely match. Ford's goal is to provide quick and regular health updates.
For the last few years, Ford has been looking at incorporating wearables into this health monitoring. One of the concepts is for a wearable to report health information upon starting the vehicle, informing the vehicle's computer of how rested the driver is, for example.
Last year, Ford created a "Connected Health App Challenge" to encourage new ideas:
"The purpose of this challenge is to invite Ford Motor Company and HFHS employees to submit concepts that utilize the automobile and wearable devices as components providing an effective health and wellbeing program for customers and patients of all ages and conditions."
A prototype of a wearable designed to pair with a car to monitor health information. Screenshot from Ford Media.
Some other potential ideas include heart monitoring via six plates built into the back of the driver’s seat. The plates can measure the electrical changes in the skin of the driver (given they are not wearing a thick coat or sweater), which correlates with each heart beat. The results can then be analyzed and then sent for viewing online by the driver later.
Another suggestion is a glucose monitor in the dashboard of the vehicle which interfaces with the user’s smartphone and an insulin sensor that is worn by the driver. The dashboard could display the glucose readings of the driver being transmitted to the smartphone—or a passenger—to keep an eye on levels.
All of Ford’s ideas for integrating health and wellness features in their vehicles are still undergoing development and market analysis, but they represent a unique way to get a competitive edge in automotives.
Empathetic Design for Virtual Reality
In an effort to provide designers of medical devices more insight into the perspective of their patients, R&D company, Battelle, is taking advantage of virtual reality for device testing.
Their virtual reality environment is used to test the way a medical device could be used, simulating different challenges that patients might face. This provides the opportunity to change or refine the design of medical devices with virtual rapid-prototyping, and to create meaningful usage instructions to help ensure medical devices are used correctly. Some of the simulated challenges include visual impairment or motor difficulties.
A handheld device is being tested using a virtual reality environment. Image courtesy of Battelle.
Typical test processes could potentially overlook challenges, and slow down opportunities for designers to fix flaws before devices are put into the hands of patients.
The VR testing environment at Battelle is fairly minimal, with a basic graphics engine, but the researchers using the system says that’s all that’s needed for now.
Using VR in medical research and applications has many advantages: designers, engineers, and doctors can access and test from anywhere, feedback and changes to designs can be implemented quickly, students and other doctors or engineers can tune into live VR sessions to observe surgeries or tests being conducted, and experimental procedures can be tested.
Feature image courtesy of Batelle.