​Microsoft patent shows wearable band with haptic feedback

Microsoft wants to use haptic actuators to alleviate symptoms of involuntary movement.

Microsoft's latest patent application shows the company has worked on a wearable band that would wrap around limbs or joints and use haptic feedback for therapeutic stimulation.

Microsoft's wearable wouldn't count steps or measure heart rates, but rather is designed to alleviate symptoms of conditions that affect a person's ability to move or control limbs, such as tremors or stiff muscles caused by Parkinson's disease.

The device would have many haptic actuators distributed across a band that can be adjusted in terms of each actuator's "duty cycle" in response to sensor data, according to the patent. That data could come from sensors on the wearable itself or a nearby tablet or phone that communicates with it over Wi-Fi or Bluetooth.

For example, Microsoft envisages that sensors in a stylus or a tablet could communicate with a wrist-worn therapeutic device in order to detect involuntary motion of the user when writing. It could then automatically adjust the operation of the actuators to reduce the involuntary motion.

Or Microsoft suggests implementing the sensors in the wearable device itself so as to detect the motion of the actuators.

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Microsoft's device as seen in the patent filing.

Image: United States Patent and Trademark Office

The sensors themselves could include accelerometers, gyroscopes, heart-rate sensors, and electromyography sensors for detecting muscle activity. Alternatively, sensors outside the wearable could include a touchscreen or imaging system that detects motion, or motion detectors in a stylus.

To improve the effectiveness of the device Microsoft says it would be possible to selectively activate a portion of the actuators to suit the wearer's unique needs. Alternatively, the wearable could be designed with movable actuators to target the area of the limb experiencing involuntary motion.

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"The therapeutic stimulation of the wearer is provided through the vibration of two or more actuators within the wearable device. In various examples, the wearable device may additionally comprise a second channel for the provision of therapeutic stimulation, such as an audio channel (e.g. the wearable device may additionally comprise a speaker or buzzer)," says the patent.

Microsoft doesn't put any limitations on what form factor the wearable could take, and considers its ideas applicable to a flexible adhesive patch that could be placed on a shoulder joint. Alternatively, the wearable device could be integrated into clothing, such as a sleeve or stocking.

Microsoft has experimented with wearables before; Microsoft Band was a wrist-worn health tracker with a number of sensors; despite some good reviews Microsoft no longer makes the device.

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