Google has acquired San Francisco-based Lift Labs, a company that is developing smart utensils for people with Parkinson’s and essential tremor. Lift Labs will join Google[x], which is Google’s secretive innovation lab.
Lift Labs is not to be confused with activity and posture tracking wearable device maker Lumo Body Tech, which offers a device called Lumo Lift.
Lift Labs has raised $1 million in funding to date. The company was also funded for two years by the NIH. The company was also part of Rock Health’s accelerator in summer 2013.
“[Lift Labs'] tremor-canceling device could improve quality of life for millions of people,” Google writes on its Google+ account. “We’re also going to explore how their technology could be used in other ways to improve the understanding and management of neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease and essential tremor.”
In its own statement, Lift Labs said that it will continue to sell its Liftware system and will use Google’s resources to reach more people who have Parkinson’s or essential tremor. So far the company has made a spoon that will cancel tremors while the user is eating, but the company plans to add other utensils like a fork and knife. While the technology does not work on people whose tremors are too extreme or in the whole arm, the company is in the process of designing a product to suit this group.
At an AARP event in May 2014, the company announced that they had recently broke even. At the time, Lift Labs also announced that they published a study, completed in December 2013, that found with the product’s Active Cancellation of Tremor (ACT) technology turned on, tremor amplitude was reduced by an average of 72 percent in the holding task and 76 percent in the eating task. They had also secured a deal with a VA hospital in the San Francisco-area to use the product at its facility.
One of the search giant’s newest efforts, a biotech business called Calico, which stands for California Life Company, is focused on health and longevity, but also on neurodegenerative conditions as part of its joint venture with pharma company AbbVie. Additionally, Brin has a genetic marker that indicates his chances of getting Parkinson’s are higher than the average person’s.
And while there appears to be obvious ties between Google’s interests and Lift Labs’ work, in general Google has sent a number of mixed messages about its healthcare efforts in recent months.
In May 2014, Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin told investor Vinod Khosla that they see their Google’s health initiatives as “cool” projects, but they argue because of all the red tape in healthcare they are ultimately not interested in pursuing it fully. At the time they acknowledged that they were in the process of developing glucose-sensing contact lenses, which Google licensed to a Novartis subsidiary in July, but that because healthcare is a “heavily regulated” field, “it’s just a painful business to be in.”
A few months after the interview, Google announced that it would conduct the Google Baseline study, which will use a combination of genetic testing and digital health sensors to collect “baseline” data on healthy people. The idea is to establish genetic biomarkers relating to “how [patients] metabolize food, nutrients and drugs, how fast their hearts beat under stress and how chemical reactions change the behavior of their genes.”
Google has been working on various digital health projects since as early as 2006, when it launched Google Health, a personal health record system. The system lasted about five years. Google announced the shutdown of Google Health in 2011, with full functionality ending January 1, 2012. User data was available to be transferred elsewhere for an additional year. Around the same time, Google launched a service called Google Flu Trends, which researchers recently discovered appeared to have wide-reaching and systemic problems.
And while several other companies, including Apple and Samsung, have recently announced health data aggregation platforms, in June, Google unveiled Google Fit, a decidedly more fitness-focused offering.