Google Glass Put to Work to Help Parkinson's Patients

About 20 patients with Parkinson's disease are using Google Glass for a week at a time to see how the devices might help them in their everyday lives, according to a study at Newcastle University in England.

Google Glass is being used by patients with Parkinson's disease in early trial experiments aimed at finding new ways to help people affected by this debilitating disease. The work, which is being conducted at Newcastle University in England, is showing early promise by helping patients remember to take their medications and giving users more confidence as they fight the disease.

For Parkinson's patients, the eyewear-mounted Glass devices are so far showing to be easier to use than smartphones to stay in touch with family members and to get through their daily lives, Roisin McNaney (pictured), a Ph.D. student at the university's Digital Interaction Group in the School of Computing Science, told eWEEK in a telephone interview.

"We know from the specific patient symptoms related to Parkinson's that smartphones can be a hindrance" for easy communications with others, said McNaney. Hand tremors and unmovable limbs can be traits of the disease, which can make it hard for patients to operate the often small controls and buttons on today's smartphones, she said.

Google Glass, however, doesn't have those drawbacks due to their voice activation, head-tilt features, easy gesture controls and hands-free capabilities, said McNaney. "With the different gestures used in Glass, we thought this could be useful."

The university was able to acquire three Glass devices from Google in August 2013 after successfully entering a research competition, according to Dr. John Vines, a senior research associate with the university's Digital Interaction Group in the School of Computing Science. The first small trial happened immediately upon receiving the units, but it was quickly expanded to 20 patients in another test project that is still ongoing, said Vines.

Because the Digital Interaction Group conducts research to find ways in which technologies can remove the stigmatization that people with Parkinson's or other diseases can feel in society, Google Glass was a perfect fit for the experiments, said Vines.

"They have a huge array of different types of sensors, a forward-facing camera, a rudimentary eye tracker, accelerometers and a gyroscope," said Vines, all of which can help Parkinson's patients share what they are experiencing and seeing with others at any given moment. "These are all useful things."

The patients who have been participating in the latest Glass trials are receiving the devices for about a week and then are meeting with the researchers and their team for collaborative design sessions where the patients give feedback and ideas about other features that could help them.

"Apps can then be developed to address those needs," then given to the patients for later follow-up, said Vines.