Two years ago, a young medical student named Faii Ong was asked to help care for a 103-year old patient who kept losing weight. “No one knew what was going on,” Ong told me recently. “No one knew why she was doing so poorly. Did we miss something big, like cancer?”
It turned out they hadn’t missed anything big: they’d missed something small. Taking his lunch in the cafeteria one day, Ong happened to see his patient struggling to eat soup with a spoon. “Her hand kept trembling, and so the soup spilled all down her front.” Because of essential tremors caused by Parkinson’s, the 103-year-old was losing weight simply because she could not get food to her mouth without spilling.
In the time since the encounter, Ong has invented a device that could help his patient, as well as millions of other Parkinson’s patients and tremor sufferers around the world. His invention, the GyroGlove, straps gyroscopic stabilizers on the back of a patient’s hand, promising to vastly help people with hand tremors use simple tools with accuracy.
Like other devices designed for patients with Parkinson’s, the GyroGlove works by trying to stabilize the erratic tremors that are one of the major symptoms of the disease. It uses a mechanical gyroscope to dampen the tremors in a wearer’s hand. Although smaller, this gyroscope is not significantly different than the control movement gyroscope used on the International Space Station, which allows it to turn in space without firing jets. By constantly spinning at thousands of RPMs, the gyroscope helps the GyroGlove constantly rebalance a wearer’s trembling hands, all in real-time.
It’s a simple solution, but it works. According to Ong’s company, GyroGear, the GyroGlove can help reduce hand tremors by up to 90%. It doesn’t feel entirely natural–testers apparently equate the sensation of wearing a GyroGlove with using their hands submerged in thick liquid–but it works without requiring a doctor to fine-tune the device to each individual patient, or a bulky design that might further stigmatize those already embarrassed by their tremors. Ong even says that the GyroGear could someday be appropriated by professions where a steadier hand could be useful, like surgery.
Ong doesn’t know what happened to his 103-year-old patient, but he wishes he could go back in time and give her a GyroGlove. The stakes for that original use case–Parkinson’s and tremor-sufferers–are huge. Worldwide, there are approximately 10 million Parkinson’s patients, and an additional 200 million people with essential tremor. The GyroGlove could make a dramatic impact on quality of life for many of these patients. And unlike products like the Liftware spoon or the ArcPen, the GyroGlove isn’t a proprietary solution using just one tool. By wearing the GyroGlove, everything becomes easier for those with tremors–not just writing a letter or using a spoon.
If the GyroGlove does prove a success with users, Ong doesn’t intend on stopping with hands. He imagines adapting the GyroGlove’s technology to help address tremors in other parts of the body: for example, restless leg syndrome. The first step, though, is to ship the GyroGlove. Although an exact launch date is still to be decided, the GyroGlove is scheduled to go on sale early next year, at a price ranging from $550 to $850. A Kickstarter will launch later this year, most likely in September. You can sign up for the GyroGlove’s waiting list here.