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Robotic glove helps restore hand movements

12 Jan 2016

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A research team from the National University of Singapore (NUS) developed a lightweight and smart rehabilitation device to help people who have lost their hand functions due to injuries or nerve-related conditions, such as stroke and muscular dystrophy.

Called the EsoGlove, the novel device is made of soft materials. It is an improvement from conventional robotic hand rehabilitation devices as it has sensors to detect muscle signals and conforms to the natural movements of the human hand, reducing discomfort and risk of injury. This robotic glove is also compact and portable, so patients who are recovering at home or are bedridden could carry out rehabilitation exercises with greater ease and comfort.

Assistant Professor Raye Yeow from the NUS Department of Biomedical Engineering, who specialises in soft wearable robotics and is a key member of the research team, explained, "For patients to restore their hand functions, they need to go through rehabilitation programmes that involve repetitive tasks such as gripping and releasing objects. These exercises are often labour intensive and are confined to clinical settings. EsoGlove is designed to enable patients to carry out rehabilitation exercises in various settings – in the hospital wards, rehabilitation centres and even at home. Equipped with technology that can detect and interpret muscle signals, EsoGlove can also assist patients in daily activities, for instance by guiding the fingers to perform tasks such as holding a cup."

Robotic glove

NUS researchers has developed EsoGlove to help patients who have lost their hand functions due to injuries or nerve-related conditions to restore their hand movements. (Source: NUS)

The NUS team comprises Yeow, his clinical collaborator Dr Lim Jeong Hoon from the NUS Department of Medicine, as well as PhD candidate Yap Hong Kai and undergraduate student Benjamin Ang Wee Keong, who are both from the NUS Department of Biomedical Engineering.

Greater comfort and convenience

Conventional robotic devices for hand rehabilitation consist of rigid electromechanical components, which are heavy and uncomfortable for patients.

"EsoGlove is unique as it is made entirely of soft components and does not require complicated mechanical setups. The main body of the glove is made of fabric, with soft actuators embedded. It also has adjustable Velcro straps to cater to different hand sizes," Yeow said.

EsoGlove is connected to a pump-valve control system that modulates the air pressure which directs the soft actuators. When the actuators are pressurised by air, they apply distributed forces along the length of the finger to promote finger movements, such as bending, extending and twisting, to support different hand motions. This novel method does not constrain the finger's natural movements, unlike conventional devices that make use of rigid links and joints. Each actuator also functions independently, providing assistance to each finger separately.

The robotic glove can be applied in a table-top version for bedridden patients, as well as a waist-belt version for patients who are mobile and recovering at home.


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