Parkinson’s Spoon Uses Control Theory For Good

When we first saw [Barqunics’] design for a self-stabilizing spoon for people suffering from Parkinson’s disease, we wondered how well something like that could work. But take a look at the video below and you’ll see this does a fine job of responding to the user’s hand movements and keeping the spoon perfectly level through a wide range of motion.

There’s at least one commercial product that attempts to stabilize a spoon in the same way so that people suffering from that affliction can retain a measure of independence. This shows that you don’t need injection molding and factory made boards to prove the concept. An MPU6050 provides sensor information and two servo motors control the spoon using PID control.

PID — short for proportional, integral, derivative — is a way to adjust something to a desired point. For example, consider trying to heat a cup of water to 95 °C. If you simply turn the heater on full blast until you get to 95 °C, the water will actually get hotter because you’ll overshoot. Using PID, the amount of heating provided will depend on how far off you are now (proportional), how far off you’ve been over the long term (integral), and how much change you’ve effected recently (derivative). The same algorithm works for spoon-balancing and many other types of controls.

This isn’t the first bootstrapped assistive spoon project we’ve seen. We even looked at the commercial version, awhile back.

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Controlling Tremors As They Happen

Some neurological disorders, like Parkinson’s disease, can cause muscle tremors which can get worse as time goes along. In the beginning it may not be too difficult to manage, but as the disease progresses the tremors get worse and worse, until day-to-day movements are extremely difficult. Even picking up a fork or pouring a glass of water becomes nearly impossible. Some helpful tools have been designed to limit the impacts of the tremors, but this new device seeks to dampen the tremors directly.

A research team from Fresno State has been developing the Tremelo, which is a hand stabilizer that straps onto the arm of a person suffering from tremors. It has sets of tuned mass dampers in each of two enclosures, which rapidly shift the weights inside to counter the motion of the wearer’s tremors. The device has already shown success in 36 trial patients and does an incredible job at limiting the amount of tremors the user experiences, and also has a bonus of being non-invasive for the wearer.

The team has successfully trialed the program, but is currently seeking funding on Indiegogo. The project seems worthwhile and is a novel approach to a common problem. In the past, devices (admittedly with a much cheaper price tag) try to solve the problem externally rather than in the direction that the Tremelo has gone, and it’s a unique idea that shows a lot of promise.

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Adaptive Spoon Helps Those With Parkinson’s

There are a lot of side effects of living with medical conditions, and not all of them are obvious. For Parkinson’s disease, one of the conditions is a constant hand tremor. This can obviously lead to frustration with anything that involves fine motor skills, but also includes eating, which can be even more troublesome than other day-to-day tasks. There are some products available that help with the tremors, but at such a high price [Rupin] decided to build a tremor-compensating utensil with off the shelf components instead.

The main source of inspiration for this project was the Liftware Steady, but at around $200 this can be out of reach for a lot of people. The core of this assistive spoon has a bill of material that most of us will have lying around already, in order to keep costs down. It’s built around an Arduino and an MPU6050 inertial measurement unit with two generic servo motors. It did take some 3D printing and a lot of math to get the utensil to behave properly, but the code is available on the project site for anyone who wants to take a look.

This project tackles a problem that we see all the time: a cost-effective, open-source solution to a medical issue where the only alternatives are much more expensive. Usually this comes up around prosthetics, but can also help out by making biological compounds like insulin directly for less than a medical company can provide it.

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