January 13, 2016

Robotic Glove Helps Patients Restore Hand Movements

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A research team at the National University of Singapore (NUS) has developed a portable robotic hand rehabilitation device for people who have lost their hand functions due to injuries or nerve-related conditions, such as stroke and muscular dystrophy. The device, worn like a glove, uses sensors with electromyography (EMG) and radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology to detect muscle signals and conforms to the natural movements of the human hand, reducing discomfort and risk of injury, according to the team.

Members of the research team demonstrate the device. Photograph courtesy of National University of Singapore.

The robotic glove, called the EsoGlove, is connected to a pump-valve control system that modulates the air pressure that directs the soft actuators. Each actuator functions independently, providing assistance to each finger separately. When the actuators are pressurized by air, they apply distributed forces along the length of the finger to promote finger movements to support different hand motions. Because it is portable and made with fabric, it can be used for rehabilitation exercises when the patient is at home or bedridden.

The EMG and RFID technology allows the robotic glove to detect a patient’s intent to perform a hand action on a particular object, such as picking up a pen or holding a mug. By interpreting the muscle signals of the wearer, it can help the patient move his or her fingers to accomplish specific tasks involving objects of various shapes and sizes in an intuitive manner.

“With this unique approach, we can develop therapeutic tools using safe and wearable robotic technology,” said Lim Jeong Hoon, MD, PhD, senior consultant in the NUS Department of Medicine. “Patients can take the initiative in their own rehabilitative process, rather than being passive recipients of therapists’ intervention.”

“As the soft actuators in the EsoGlove are made from non-ferromagnetic materials, they are suitable for use in functional magnetic resonance imaging studies,” added Yap Hong Kai, BEng, a doctoral candidate in the NUS Graduate School for Integrative Sciences and Engineering and a member of the research team. “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.”

Pilot clinical studies of the EsoGlove are expected to begin at Singapore’s National University Hospital in February and are estimated to last about six months and involve 30 patients. The team has filed a patent for the device, and will start a spin-off company to commercialize it.

Editor’s note: This story was adapted from materials provided by National University of Singapore.

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