Lift Labs' Liftware system cancels minor hand tremors to make it easier for patients to eat. Lift Tabs has produced a spoon, and intends to develop a soup spoon, fork, and other attachments in the future. According to the company, the device cancels out an average of 70% of tremors while eating. Google stated that Liftware "could improve quality of life for millions of people" on its Google+ account.
Prior to Google's acquisition, Lift Labs raised $1 million in funding to date. It was also funded for two years by the National Institutes of Health, and was part of Rock Health's accelerator in the summer of 2013. Lift Labs will become part of Google X, the tech giant's secretive innovation lab.
Let's take a closer look at how technological advancements like Liftware can help Parkinson's patients, and how smart spoons fit into Google's healthcare strategies.
Using technology to treat Parkinson's
An estimated 10 million people in the world suffer from Parkinson's disease, a neurological disease characterized by tremors, stiffness of the limbs and body, a slowdown in movements, and impaired balance. Current treatments for Parkinson's disease, like Levodopa, try to keep the symptoms under control by increasing the brain's supply of dopamine, but they do not treat the root cause of the disease.
Meanwhile, the rising adoption of mobile and wearable tech has fueled the development of innovative ways to help Parkinson's patients.
In 2011, UCLA researchers developed an iPhone app that uses the phone's accelerometers to detect minor tremors in a patient's hand to diagnose Parkinson's. Since then, several app developers have created similar apps based on the same principles. Last year, Casa Futura launched iParkinsons, an Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) iOS app which detects and corrects patients' slurred speech by changing how they hear their own voices through headphones. According to the company, the app improved the intelligibility of a patient's speech by two to six times.
Earlier this year, a team of researchers at Newcastle University started testing a Google Glass app to help Parkinson's patients. The app tells patients to speak up if their voice is too soft, to swallow at the right time, to take their medication, and to support patients who experience "freezing" episodes. In August, Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) announced a partnership with the Michael J. Fox Foundation to start a wearables study for Parkinson's disease, which could lead to better hardware support (with smaller chips and sensors) for Parkinson's apps on smart watches and other wearable devices.
Another piece of Google's healthcare puzzle
Google has dramatically increased its footprint in healthcare over the past year. Last September, it launched Calico, a biotech subsidiary focused on age-related diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. Earlier this month, AbbVie (NYSE:ABBV) entered a partnership worth up to $1.5 billion with Calico to expand its research and development capabilities.
In January, Google unveiled a smart contact lens designed to detect blood glucose levels through tears, which was licensed to Novartis (NYSE:NVS) in July. That same month, Google unveiled Project Baseline, which aims to create an anonymized genetic database to identify biomarkers related to diseases like heart disease and cancer.
Google Glass has also gained momentum in healthcare as a hands-free smart device for physicians. Developers like Augmedix and Drchrono are bringing EHRs (electronic health records) to Glass' heads-up display, while Philips, Accenture, and Qualcomm have all been exploring other uses for Glass in hospitals. Several hospitals have also started using Glass to scan QR codes on patients' doors to immediately access patient records.
Google will also launch Google Fit, a unified platform for Android-compatible fitness apps and wearable devices in the near future, although it won't directly link to EHRs like Apple's HealthKit in iOS8.
A Foolish final word
Google's acquisition of Lift Labs tells us two things: that new technological innovations could continue improving the lives of Parkinson's patients, and that Google isn't shy about dreaming big when it comes to healthcare.
In my opinion, Google clearly sees other uses for Lift Labs' tremor-cancelling technology, which could be adapted for other objects to help Parkinson's patients. This could lead to partnerships with larger medical device companies, like Medtronic (NYSE:MDT) (which already produces a "brain pacemaker" for Parkinson's patients), to manufacture and launch these products globally.
Leo Sun owns shares of Apple. The Motley Fool recommends Apple, Google (A shares), Google (C shares), and Intel. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple, Google (A shares), Google (C shares), Intel, and Medtronic. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.