Stroke patients must typically undergo arduous and repetitive rehabilitation to relearn the basic skills they lose. A team of students from the NYU Tandon School of Engineering, Brooklyn, NY, is using smartphones to improve the process.

The core of the technology is a set of wearable mechatronic devices: a jacket to measure arm placement, a glove to measure wrist and finger placement and finger joint angles, and a finger trainer built of hand-friendly, compliant material. All are connected inexpensively by a smartphone. When a patient performs an exercise assigned by a physician or physical therapist, microcontrollers quantify the action — measuring grip strength, for example — and display that information via the smartphone to both the patient and medical provider. Rather than mindlessly repeat the exercise, patients engage in a virtual reality game that allows them to observe the performance of the unaffected side of the body and mimic the same performance on the affected side.

Rehabilitation in a clinical setting renders patients dependent on caregivers and therapists, but using smartphone technology allows stroke survivors to make great strides within their own homes, boosting morale and motivating them to continue rehabilitating their stroke-related disabilities. Because the microcontrollers are attached to easy-to-wear garments, exercising can be seamlessly integrated into a patient’s day-to-day activities rather than treated as a separate, unwelcome task. Additionally, the cost-effective system, which the students project will sell for under $1,000, provides measurement results correlating to existing research-standard devices selling for eight times that amount.

The next steps for the students include forming a company with the patent-pending technology, and launching a startup at the NYU Tandon new-business incubators. The students are currently refining their prototype and expect to begin working with several patients from around the world, including their native India.