Eating with a fork and spoon is something most of us take for granted. For someone with a hand tremor–such as that caused by Parkinson’s Disease, for instance–it can be a difficult or impossible task. Food gets spilled, and those with tremors are often embarrassed, causing them to shy away from social gatherings where eating might be involved.
In 2013, a company called Lift Labs created a solution called Liftware in the form of a utensil with built-in motion sensors, similar to those found in a smartphone, and attachments that let it be used as a spoon or fork. It can detect a tremor and adjust the fork or spoon accordingly, resulting in a stable eating experience. In September 2014, the startup was acquired by Google.
Lift Labs became part of Google Life Sciences, the first new company created under the company’s Alphabet umbrella, in September of this year. Life Sciences’s mission, according to Google cofounder Sergey Brin, is to “develop new technologies to make health care more proactive.” The company, under the direction of CEO Andy Conrad, is working on projects such as smart contact lenses that can monitor blood glucose levels and nanoparticles that can be used to detect cancer.
The hope, as Brin put it during the announcement of the group in August, is to “move new technologies from early stage R&D to clinical testing–and, hopefully–transform the way we detect, prevent, and manage disease.”
Liftware is one of the first devices to emerge from the group, and while it was already on the market prior to the Google acquisition, the company is now partnering with a few new organizations to ensure that the device gets into the hands of those who need it. It’s also making it a bit more affordable, dropping the cost from $295 to $195.
“The goal is to get this out to as many people who need one, and really facilitate the gift-giving process,” says Lift Labs founder and CEO Anupam Pathak.
To do that, Lift Labs has started working with the International Essential Tremor Foundation (IETF), National Parkinson Foundation, and Michael J. Fox Foundation. The device currently isn’t covered by insurance programs or plans such as Medicare, so the hope is that the new partnerships will enable the devices to get in the hands of those who might not otherwise be able to afford them.
Pathak says that many of the devices sold so far have been gifts. “That’s one of the big reasons we started doing this. The fact that people are thinking of others when they get these devices is really, really important.”
Those that have already used the device have reported back to the company how life-changing the experience has been in the form of letters. Walls at the company’s office and factory in Fremont, California, are lined with thank-you notes from people who use the device.
“Since there’s not a cure for many of the diseases, such as Parkinson’s, that cause tremors, patients often have a sense of despair when they’re diagnosed, knowing that over time symptoms are likely to get worse rather than better,” says Pathak.
He says that just knowing that there are teams like Liftware working hard on solutions is enough to give many people hope for the future.
“That hope is something that is really core to our mission, and something we really want to provide through our actions. So we’re not only improving quality of life, but giving people hope that we are in the near future going to be doing a lot more,” says Pathak. “I like to think of it as we’re kind of part of a whole army of people who are working on helping the cure.”