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Interview: Anupam Pathak, founder of Lift Labs

by Leanne Yong on May 7, 2014
Tech

Leaders in Heels is expanding our Tech section to Tech+Design! Our first article in the Design section is an interview with Anupam Pathak, founder of Lift Labs.

Lift Labs designs technologies to assist people with Essential Tremor and Parkinson’s Disease. Their main product is the Liftware Stabilizer, a spoon designed with active tremor cancellation, enabling sufferers to feed themselves – a feat that can be nearly impossible for some. Read on to see what inspires him, the design process for the Liftware Stabilizer, and the advice he has for aspiring industrial designers.

What inspired you to found Lift Labs?

The first time I saw the technology work by helping someone feed themselves I was floored.

I’ve been really passionate about using technology to create social change and benefit. I had spent some time working on motion stabilization systems, but a few years ago made the decision to concentrate these efforts on helping people with Essential Tremor. It used to be called “Benign Essential Tremor”, but most patients will attest that it is not benign at all, and often leads to severe degradation in quality of life.

The first time we saw somebody with Essential Tremor eat soup (a previously impossible task) with one of our prototypes was amazing. I still remember that day — it was such an emotional experience seeing something that we had built with our hands helping someone in such a fundamental way. I was floored. I knew I wanted to keep working in this area, and the validation from our users only encourages me to keep doing more.

 How did you come up with the initial design for the Liftware Stabilizer? Was it very different to the final design we see today?

The initial design was a proof-of-concept, and it looked totally different than the final design. It was a plastic picnic spoon connected to wires and electronics that didn’t work nearly as well as our final version. It certainly came a long way in a short time.

Can you tell us about the general process you went through when designing the Liftware?

It took many, many iterations. On the controller side, probably hundreds — on the hardware maybe 15-20. A large focus was placed on getting feedback from patients. Most of the hardware iterations happened after having people try out a prototype and give us their feedback. The controller was tested and optimized in the laboratory using mechanical test equipment.

Which elements of the Liftware were hardest to design, or gave you the most trouble?

The most time-consuming part definitely was the engineering.

It is actually a very complicated system!  The electronics and control system were the most difficult to get right and then work properly with our mechanical parts. A lot of care went into making sure the device is robust and can handle daily use, so that also took a lot of effort. The most time-consuming part definitely was the engineering. A lot of effort was placed in not only ensuring that our parts functional but reliable, standing up to our rigorous cyclic testing.

The testing was done both with users with Essential Tremor and in the lab. Most of our moving parts we tested by machine to make sure that they could undergo daily use.

How did you take it from the laboratory to the mass production stage?

It took several months of design for manufacture where each part was carefully redesigned to make sure it could be in quantity. We then partnered with a contract manufacturer here in the bay area (California) to set up our assembly line. The entire process took about three years from start to finish. lot of effort was placed in not only ensuring that our parts functional but reliable, standing up to our rigorous cyclic testing.

 

Any words of advice that you’d like to give the aspiring industrial designers out there?

This is a most important thing – to truly understand their problems before coming up with solutions.

Connect with and befriend your users. This is a most important thing – to truly understand their problems before coming up with solutions. It also will bring personal motivations to your work, which I believe is extremely important.
The Liftware Stabiliser ($295 USD) is available directly from the Lift Labs website. Shipping is $45 USD to Australia, and free within the United States and Canada.
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Leanne Yong
Leanne Yong is the Leaders in Heels Managing Editor, and a Games Master for an escape room (Next Level Escape). She loves stories and puzzles, and has written four novels.
 
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