A smart soft robotic glove developed by Singaporean researchers promises a breakthrough in rehabilitation of patients with loss of hand functions.
Called the EsoGlove, the device uses sensors to detect muscle signals for intuitive control and electromyography to detect the patient’s intent to move the hand.
“EsoGlove is unique as it is made entirely of soft components and does not require complicated mechanical setups,” explained wearable robotics specialist Raye Yeow from the National University of Singapore (NUS), who led the research.
“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.”
The glove is connected to a pump-valve control system, which directs air to the actuators. When pressurised by air, the actuators apply a force along the length of each finger to trigger movement. The system can help the patient bend, extend and twist the fingers together or move separately in a similar way as healthy people can do.
The team says that, unlike existing rigid electromechanical devices, the EsoGlove doesn’t constrain natural movements and is more comfortable to use. As it doesn’t contain any ferromagnetic materials, it could also be used inside magnetic resonance imagers to help shed more light into the activity of the brain in relation to fine motor skills.
“We hope that the robotic glove can contribute towards investigating the brain’s activity in relation to motor performance during hand rehabilitation, and unravel the functional effects of soft rehabilitation robotics on brain stimulation,” said Yap Hong Kai, a PhD candidate at NUS.
Another advantage of the device, the researchers said, is the fact that it is portable and can be used in a hospital as well as domestic setting.
Those recovering from strokes or struggling with neuro-degenerative conditions could use the robotic glove comfortably in their homes, thus speeding up their progress compared to what could be achieved with only in-hospital treatment.
“For patients to restore their hand functions, they need to go through rehabilitation programmes that involve repetitive tasks such as gripping and releasing objects,” explained Yeow. “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.”
The glove can even assist patients with simple activities such as picking up a cup or a pen from a table.
First clinical trials of the device, involving 30 patients, will start in February.