Al­pha­bet’s Alpha Spoon

For the dis­abled, Al­pha­bet’s high-tech spoon de­liv­ers food and free­dom.

Fast Company - - Contents - By Christina Farr

A high-tech uten­sil from Ver­ily is help­ing peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties feed them­selves.

Ste­fanie Put­nam smiles broadly as she eats a spoon­ful of rice in the cafe­te­ria at Ver­ily, the Al­pha­bet-owned life-sciences re­search firm. She’s here to demon­strate the Lift­ware Level, a smart uten­sil de­signed to help peo­ple with move­ment dis­or­ders, such as spinal cord injuries and cere­bral palsy, feed them­selves with­out help from a care­taker.

The spoon works by re­spond­ing to the user’s in­vol­un­tary ac­tions. As 32-year-old Put­nam, who was par­tially par­a­lyzed in a swim­ming ac­ci­dent eight years ago, raises the de­vice, sen­sors in the han­dle trig­ger two mo­tors lo­cated near the spoon at­tach­ment. The mo­tors give the spoon mo­tion, al­low­ing it to bend and twist to stay level and keep food from fall­ing. Put­nam can also con­vert the spoon into a fork us­ing a dif­fer­ent part. Anu­pam Pathak, Ver­ily’s tech­ni­cal lead and man­ager of the Lift­ware pro­ject, says his team is ex­pand­ing the con­cept to ad­dress ad­di­tional tasks; new extensions could help with hair brush­ing or paint­ing. He’s even is­sued a chal­lenge to Al­pha­bet em­ploy­ees to pro­to­type their own ad­dons. “With tech­nolo­gies like 3-D printing, we can rapidly test an idea,” he says. “We want peo­ple to build off of what we have.”

As for Put­nam, the de­vice has opened up new pos­si­bil­i­ties. Re­cently, she asked her fa­ther if she could feed him for a change. “I took the spoon and started tak­ing the cof­fee out of his cup,” she says. “It dawned on me in that mo­ment that I could have a fam­ily. I could have chil­dren some­day and be able to take care of them.”

Smart spoon

Mo­tors in the han­dle of the Lift­ware Level coun­ter­act un­wanted hand move­ments.

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