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By Stephen Wilson

Lifting a spoon to your mouth. For most, a simple and routine task.

For others, a source of ridicule and embarrassment.

For engineer Anupam Pathak and his team at LiftLabs, it was an innovation opportunity.

Mechanical engineering students and Dyer Center entrepreneurs listened to Pathak speak about his product, design approach, acquisition by Google, and current projects.

A group of scientists and engineers, LiftLabs works to develop new technologies that provide assistance for people with hand tremor and limited hand and arm mobility resulting from stroke, spine injury, Parkinson’s disease, essential tremor, and/or cerebral palsy.

LiftLabs’ first product, Liftware Steady, began as a project based in experience-driven design. LiftLabs’ team designed with empathy, listening to people at tremor support groups who had trouble eating. Their only help was through medications, brain surgery, or straws. Some people living with tremors are embarrassed by looks they receive in public. (Watch this video to see Liftware in action.)

Other approaches include developing a wearable but often cumbersome exoskeleton designed to forcefully reduce tremors, but from LiftLabs’ perspective, such approaches miss the whole point, focusing on device functionality, not needs of the person using the device.

The LiftLabs team iterated many times based on feedback from end-users. When funders saw the first shake-test video, funds increased. The team’s approach worked, reducing tremor disruption by 75-80 percent.

And customers loved it. After launch, thank-you notes poured in. Pathak took nearly 800 notes to line workers assembling the products so they could see how their work had a direct impact on improving people’s lives.

Google also took note. The LiftLabs team joined Google Life Sciences in 2014, which became Verily in 2015. Verily has a robust accessibility team, which in this case helped test the product.

Liftware Level became the next product—a utensil that uses electronic motion-stabilizing technology to keep the utensil level, regardless of how a hand or arm twists, bends, or moves.

Again trusted users and testers helped fix and refine the product through its many iterations.

Now LiftLabs is striving to meet needs in new areas of life. It sees the elder care market on the cusp of a boom where other handheld stabilizers could provide assistance.

LiftLabs hopes to reach more people who need help with items that are necessary and nice to have.


Categorized in: Dyer Center, Featured News, Innovation and Research, Lectures-Discussions, Mechanical Engineering, News and Features