Robotic glove helps patients to restore hand movements
An improvement from the conventional robotic hand rehabilitation devices, which are heavy and uncomfortable.
Patients who have lost their hand functions due to injuries or nerve-related conditions, such as stroke and muscular dystrophy, now have a chance of restoring their hand movements by using a new lightweight and smart rehabilitation device called EsoGlove developed by a research team from the National University of Singapore (NUS).
This is an improvement from the conventional robotic hand rehabilitation devices, which are heavy and uncomfortable for patients. This new device made of soft materials 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.”
How it works
Soft actuators are embedded in the fabric of the glove. The glove is connected to a pump-valve control system that modulates the air pressure, which then directs the actuators. When these 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 method does not constrain the finger’s natural movements, unlike conventional devices that make use of rigid links and joints. Each actuator functions independently, providing assistance to each finger separately. The glove also has adjustable Velcro straps to cater to different hand sizes.
The robotic glove can be applied in a tabletop version for bedridden patients, as well as a waist-belt version for patients who are mobile and recovering at home.
The NUS team comprises A/Prof 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, who are both from the NUS Department of Biomedical Engineering.
A/Prof Yeow and his team plan to start pilot clinical studies at the National University Hospital (NUH) in February 2016 to validate the device’s performance, as well as to obtain patient and clinical feedback so as to further refine the design of the device. The studies will take about six months, involving 30 patients.
The team has also filed a patent for EsoGlove, and will start a spin-off company to commercialise the device.