Project Emma

Project Emma

Established: June 1, 2017



Microsoft Research blog


Project Emma is a wearable device initially created to help a specific person suffering from Parkinson’s, Emma Lawton, to compensate for the intentional tremors in her hands. Project Emma is named after Emma, who was diagnosed with early-onset Parkinson’s at age 29. This designer and creative director was afraid the diagnosis would mean the end of her career, since drawing and writing were difficult with her constant tremors.

This invention started as part of an engagement with the BBC documentary series The Big Life Fix. Haiyan Zhang, Innovation Director at Microsoft Research Cambridge, was tapped by the show to develop a biomedical device that might help Emma. Her team developed the Emma Watch technology, which has helped Emma regain control of her hand in performing simple drawing and writing tasks. She now looks forward to continuing her graphic design career for many decades.

Project Emma watch

How Project Emma works

The Emma Watch technology introduces a rhythmic vibration effect through small motors around the wrist. Designed with interchangeable wrist straps, the watch as currently envisioned addresses the whole human: it is both practical and stylish.

While the specific therapeutic mechanism is still unknown, one theory suggests that the ability to move is regulated by a sensorimotor feedback loop, involving the perception of movement and position of the body. The tremor symptom could arise from an erroneous feedback loop, where the brain is overcompensating for an initial movement error, resulting in a continuous tremor. The injection of vibration by the Emma Watch introduces white noise that short-circuits this erroneous feedback loop, stopping the brain from sensing the initial error and trying to overcompensate.

While this project is in the research stage only, the Microsoft Research team is undertaking further tests of its effectiveness on other Parkinson’s patients, and investigating other non-invasive, wearable interventions. Today, the Emma Watch works for Emma’s specific symptoms; our research team continues to explore how this kind of haptic technology may more people suffering from movement disorders.

Project Emma continues to be a research exploration. Microsoft Research pushes the boundaries of research in diverse areas, although not all projects may be pursued beyond the research prototype stage.

Project Emma sketch

In the news

How a Watch Helped Emma Write Again

—Microsoft News Centre UK

Haiyan Zhang has created a life-changing device for a woman with Parkinson’s “It was incredibly traumatic but exciting at the same time. There was so much fear and emotion hanging in that moment. I wanted it to work so badly.” Emma Lawton is 33, and one of the 2% of people with Parkinson’s…

Microsoft's Project Emma is a wearable that helps with Parkinson's tremors

—The Verge

Microsoft has created a watch that the company says can help people with Parkinson’s disease write more clearly. The Emma Watch sends vibrations to the brain that help control hand tremors. Microsoft unveiled the watch during its Build conference. It’s only a prototype for now, but it could represent…

Microsoft's Project Emma helps people with Parkinson's Disease

—Windows Central

Approximately 10 million people around the world are living with Parkinson’s Disease. Microsoft doesn’t have a cure, but its Emma Watch can help alleviate one of the disease’s most troubling symptoms. Parkinson’s is a progressive brain disease which is the result of brain cells dying. The disease…

‘Project Emma’ tremor-reducing watch unveiled by Microsoft CEO

—Parkinson’s Life

Haiyan Zhang, innovation director at Microsoft Research, and Emma Lawton, a 33-year-old graphic designer who lives with Parkinson’s, unveiled a tremor-reducing wristwatch device at the prestigious Microsoft Build 2017 conference last month. Emma explained that the prototype wearable has allowed…

Microsoft shows off watch that quiets Parkinson's tremors

—USA Today

Tech company developer conferences always feature a wacky demo or three. But at Build 2017 in Seattle Wednesday, Microsoft went for the waterworks at the conclusion of CEO Satya Nadella’s keynote address: it showcased a prototype watch that temporarily eliminated the arm shaking that often plagues those suffering…