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Google Glass promises support to Parkinson's disease sufferers

Researchers at Newcastle University are investigating how Google Glass might help support people with Parkinson's disease.

The wearable computer works like a hands-free smartphone, operated by simple taps of the finger and voice commands, and has already successfully assisted its first surgery.

Now, equipped with five pairs of Glass, the Newcastle University team is testing how the high-tech headset can be useful in aiding folks with long-term conditions.

"It is very early days—Glass is such a new technology we are still learning how it might be used," Dr. John Vines, a researcher in the University's Culture Lab, said in a statement. "But the beauty of this research project is we are designing the apps and systems for Glass in collaboration with the users so the resulting applications should exactly meet their needs."

A progressive neurological condition, Parkinson's affects up to 10 million people worldwide, with onset generally in those over 50 years old. The condition manifests itself in motor symptoms, showing in rigidity, tremors, and slowness of movement, as well as a number of emotional and social factors.

The University team is working with a group of Parkinson's volunteers, 46 to 70 years old, using the technology to provide discreet prompts linked to key behaviours. Someone wearing the headset, for example, could see an on-screen reminder to speak up or swallow to prevent drooling. Similarly, Glass can be used to set personal reminders to take medication or go to an appointment.

Related: Thoughts after using Google Glass for almost a year: Is this the future of wearables?

In the first UK trial of Glass, Dr. Vines, Dr. Ivan Poliakov, and Ph.D. student Roisin McNaney are also exploring how motion sensors in Glass can help individuals with "freezing," a common symptom of the disease.

"What was really encouraging from this early study was how well our volunteers took to the wearable technology and the fact that they could see the potential in it," Vines said.

McNaney agreed, adding that while wearable computing is still novel, "as more people buy into the technology and start to wear it out and about for leisure then systems such as Glass offer us a real opportunity for the long-term treatment of progressive conditions."

The team will present their initial findings later this month at the ACM Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI) 2014 conference in Toronto.

Google, meanwhile, just launched a new Glass at Work program, aimed at pushing its high-tech specs into the enterprise environment. As part of the project, the search giant is soliciting the help of enterprise software developers to create new Glass-powered innovations for businesses.