Written by Andrew Seale
Hand tremors have a tendency to strip the simplicity out of daily life. It’s something Mark Elias has witnessed first hand, watching both his grandmother and aunt suffer with the affliction.
“There aren’t many solutions out there,” laments Elias. “Most of the time they just end up hiding (the tremors)… they’re embarrassed by the condition.”
As a civil engineer, Elias spent a good deal of time ruminating on structural stability which, ultimately, fed into his own tinkering around the house. He decided to find a solution to the problems facing people with Essential Tremor and Parkinson’s Disease. But to do so, he needed resources and support.
He brought the problem and a few ideas to Emile Maamary and the pair launched Steadiwear.
“We narrowed down a list of product requirements,” says Elias. It had to be lightweight, compact, and it had to be able to selectively dampen tremors, meaning it only reacts to tremors and has to allow voluntary motion. Plus, it had to be batter-free, “so the user can essentially use it whenever they need and not worry about battery life.”
They started playing around with non-newtonian fluids and ball joints and came up with a basic solution in the form of a glove.
“Picture a ball in a socket and between the ball and a socket there's a non-newtonian fluid very similar to cornstarch and water,” he says, referencing the experiment where you combine the two. “If you move your hand slowly it still stays liquid and it's pretty soft and the second you start accelerating your hand, the fluid hardens instantly.”
The glove takes the same approach.
Setting up shop in the University of Toronto's Impact Centre (the pair joined the incubator two years ago) and using funding from the Ontario Brain Institute, the Ontario Centres of Excellence, and AGE-WELL, the startup has been tirelessly prototyping the Steadiglove alongside patient-users.
“At the start we thought we'd only be able to help tremor sufferers with mild to moderate tremors but we actually had a severe case come in and the woman was able to lift a cup of water and take a sip,” he says. “It would've been an extremely difficult task for her.”
The Steadiglove is currently patent pending but the company is hoping to launch a wider reaching clinical pilot soon, with plans to bring it to market in 2018.
“We’re going to manufacture a batch, use it for the study and the rest we're going to send out to clinics and distributors in the States that we've been in touch with,” says Elias. But they plan to call Toronto – and the Impact Centre – home for the foreseeable future.
“What they've provided is unparalleled in my opinion, I mean they have business mentorship, technical mentorship, all the lab resources you can think of… it's a great place to be,” he says. “Our core focus is first Toronto and then, of course, United States.”
Photos: Cameron Bartlett (www.snappedbycam.com)