National University of Singapore, Singapore

Patients who have lost their function in their hand due to injury or a nerve-related condition, such as stroke or muscular dystrophy, now have a chance of being able to restore hand movements through the use of a new lightweight and smart robotic rehabilitation device called the EsoGlove. (See Figure 1)

Fig. 1 – A research team from the National University of Singapore has developed a new lightweight and smart rehabilitation device called EsoGlove to help patients who have lost their hand functions due to injuries or nerve-related conditions to restore their hand movements.
Developed by a biomedical engineering team from the National University of Singapore and made up of soft materials, this innovative device, the team says, is an improvement from conventional robotic hand rehabilitation devices because it has sensors to detect muscle signals and conforms to the natural movements of the human hand, reducing discomfort and the risk of injury.

The robotic glove is, of course, compact and portable, so patients who are recovering at home or are bedridden could carry out rehabilitation exercises with greater ease and comfort.

How It Works

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

Equipped with technology to detect and interpret muscle signals, the new robotic glove can assist patients in daily activities, for instance by guiding the fingers to perform tasks such as holding a cup. The EsoGlove 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 in it. It has adjustable Velcro straps to accommodate different hand sizes.

The EsoGlove is connected to a pump-valve control system that modulates the air pressure directing the soft actuators. When the actuators are pressurized 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.

An intuitive control mechanism that involves the coupling of electromyography and radio-frequency identification technologies. With this feature, the robotic glove can 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, the robotic glove can help the patient move the fingers to accomplish the specific tasks, involving objects of various shapes and sizes, in an intuitive manner.

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. The team has filed for a patent, and plans to start a spin-off company to commercialize the device.