For most people, meal time is something to look forward to. But for the millions of people with hand tremors and irregular hand movements caused by Parkinson’s disease, essential tremor, spinal cord injuries, or just old age, using utensils can turn an enjoyable meal into a frustrating experience.
Liftware hopes to resolve that frustration. The company’s two products, Liftware Steady and Liftware Level, are both specialized eating utensils consisting of a handle and a detachable utensil head (available in soup spoon, normal spoon, fork, or spork options). Liftware Steady’s handle has an on-board computer that detects tremors and then adjusts the utensil head to move in the opposite direction, while Liftware Level has internal motors that can adjust its position to accommodate larger movements such as hand or arm twists. As a result, both devices keep their utensil heads level in the face of unintentional movements.
Liftware was founded in 2010 and was acquired by Verily, Alphabet Inc.’s life sciences research division, in 2014. We reached out to Anupam Pathak, PhD, founder of Liftware and Technical Lead at Verily, to ask him about Liftware’s beginnings, its technology, and its future.
Medgadget: How did Liftware start? What was the inspiration?
Anupam Pathak (AP): As an engineering student, I had an interest in applying the skills I was developing to help people. My graduate studies focused on new types of materials that could eventually be used to stabilize unwanted motion (for cameras, sensitive equipment, etc.). After finishing graduate school, I began to think about how these types of technologies could help people with certain disabilities.
In 2010, I applied for a grant from the NIH to pursue this goal and founded Liftware (originally called “Lift Labs”). I assembled a small team of engineers and we built what is now called Liftware Steady, a motion-stabilizing device with utensil attachments, that helps people with hand tremor that may be related to Parkinson’s disease or essential tremor eat more easily and independently.
We joined the Rock Health’s V5 Class and then in 2014 joined what is now Verily, an Alphabet company. Many of the founding members still work on Liftware at Verily, and in 2016 we launched a second device, Liftware Level, an electronic handle with a selection of utensil attachments that keeps the attachment level as your hand or arm twists, bends, or moves.
Medgadget: How does the technology work?
AP: There are two devices, Liftware Steady and Liftware Level. Liftware Steady’s handle contains an on-board computer that can detect and counteract the tremor that [it] senses, up to 70%. [It] contains stabilizing motion sensors like those found in smartphones. The sensors detect a shake and then an internal microcontroller and microprocessor automatically adjust the spoon attachment to keep it stable.
The Liftware Level is a computerized handle which keeps its attachments such as a spoon or a fork level despite hand or arm twists. The handle has a variety of motion sensors, a controller, and motors to constantly adjust its position.
Medgadget: At what stage is Liftware today, in terms of customers reached?
AP: Liftware was acquired by Verily in 2014, which allowed us to improve Liftware Steady and reduce its cost by about one-third as well as develop and launch Liftware Level. We have been able to serve thousands of users and since that time have expanded sales to Japan and Canada.
Medgadget: What are some of the biggest challenges facing the Liftware team?
AP: We’re working on building awareness for our newer products, like Liftware Level. We also receive a lot of feedback to help guide future development which we continually think through – whether that’s through new attachments for our existing products or completely new devices.
Medgadget: Looking to the future, what are the biggest goals for Liftware?
AP: At Liftware, we care a lot about helping people with movement limitations or disorders live more independently; we are constantly looking for new ways to expand or adjust our projects to other applications beyond eating. More than that, we are very thoughtful about how technology will play a bigger and bigger role in people’s lives as they age. As the aging population continues to grow in the US, developing tools that help people maintain their independence should be front and center of inventors’ minds.
Link: Liftware homepage…
Flashbacks: Liftware Level Utensil System Helps People With Disabilities Eat With Confidence…; Smart Spoon, New Apps Help People with Parkinson’s, Essential Tremors…; Writing Pen for Parkinson’s Patients…