Google aquires spill preventing “smart spoon”

Daily News Article   —   Posted on December 15, 2014

Anupam Pathak

In this photo taken Friday, Nov. 21, 2014, Anupam Pathak shows off the prototype of the Liftware Spoon he developed that helps people eat without spilling.

NOTE: Essential tremor (or shaky hand syndrome) is the most common movement disorder; its cause is unknown. It typically involves a tremor of the arms, hands or fingers but sometimes involving the head or other body parts during voluntary movements such as eating and writing. It is distinct from Parkinson’s disease—and often misdiagnosed as such—although some individuals have both conditions. Essential tremor is commonly described as an action tremor (it intensifies when one tries to use the affected muscles) rather than a resting tremor; rigidity, such as is seen in Parkinson’s, is usually not included among its symptoms. (wikipedia)


(CBS News) AP — Google is throwing its money, brain power and technology at the humble spoon.

But these spoons…are a bit more than your basic utensil: Using hundreds of algorithms, they allow people with essential tremors and Parkinson’s disease to eat without spilling.

The technology senses how a hand is shaking and makes instant adjustments to stay balanced. In clinical trials, the Liftware spoons reduced shaking of the spoon bowl by an average of 76 percent.

“We want to help people in their daily lives today and hopefully increase understanding of disease in the long run,” Google spokesperson Katelin Jabbari said.

Other adaptive devices have been developed to help people with tremors — rocker knives, weighted utensils, pen grips. But until now, experts say, technology has not been used in this way.

“It’s totally novel,” said UC San Francisco Medical Center neurologist Dr. Jill Ostrem, who specializes in movement disorders like Parkinson’s disease and essential tremors.

She helped advise the inventors and says the device, which has a fork attachment, has been a remarkable asset for some of her patients.

“I have some patients who couldn’t eat independently, they had to be fed, and now they can eat on their own,” she said. “It doesn’t cure the disease — they still have tremor — but it’s a very positive change.”

Google got into the no-shake utensil business in September, acquiring a small, (NIH) National of Institutes of Health-funded startup called Lift Labs for an undisclosed sum.

More than 10 million people worldwide, including Google co-founder Sergey Brin’s mother, have essential tremors or Parkinson’s disease. Brin has said he also has a mutation associated with higher rates of Parkinson’s and has donated more than $50 million to research for a cure. But the Lift Labs acquisition was not related, Jabbari said.

Lift Lab founder Anupam Pathak said moving from a small, four-person startup in San Francisco to the vast Google campus in Mountain View has freed him up to be more creative as he explores how to apply the technology even more broadly.

His team works at the search giant’s division called Google(x) Life Sciences, which is also developing a smart contact lens that measures glucose levels in tears for diabetics and is researching how nanoparticles in blood might help detect diseases.

Joining Google has been motivating, said Pathak, but his focus remains on people who are now able to eat independently with his device.

“If you build something with your hands and it has that sort of an impact, it’s the greatest feeling ever,” he said. “As an engineer who likes to build things, that’s the most validating thing that can happen.”

Pathak said they also hope to add sensors to the spoons to help medical researchers and providers better understand, measure and alleviate tremors. …

From an Associated Press report. Reprinted here for educational purposes only. May not be reproduced on other websites without permission from CBSNews. Visit the website at cbsnews .com.

Questions

1. Google recently bought the start-up company Lift Labs. How does Lift Labs’ spoon work?

2. a) Who does Lift Labs help?
b) How does this spoon benefit people with movement disorders?

3. a) What other devices have been designed to help people with tremors?
b) What makes the Lift Lab spoon unique?

4. Engineer and Lift Lab founder Anupam Pathak doesn’t have to worry about money now that Google has bought the company. What motivates Mr. Pathak to work on these devices?

5. What additions/improvements is Mr. Pathak working on?

6. How does this invention inspire you?

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Background

Shirin Vala, 65, of Oakland, has had an essential tremor for about a decade. She was at her monthly Essential Tremor group at a San Ramon medical clinic earlier this year when researchers developing the device introduced the idea and asked if anyone was interested in helping them.

As it was refined, she tried it out and gave them feedback. And when they hit the market at $295 apiece, she bought one.

Without the spoon, Vala said eating was really a challenge because her hands trembled so hard food fell off the utensils before she could eat it.

“I was shaking and I had a hard time to keep the food on a spoon, especially soup or something like an olive or tomatoes or something. It is very embarrassing. It’s very frustrating,” she said.

The spoon definitely improved her situation. “I was surprised that I held the food in there so much better. It makes eating much easier, especially if I’m out at a restaurant,” she said. (from the article above)