Portable robotic glove enters clinical trials for hand rehabilitation

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A research team from the National University of Singapore has developed a lightweight and smart robotic glove that helps in rehabilitation of patients who've lost their hand functions through injury or nerve-related conditions(Credit: National University of Singapore)

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A new robotic glove for hand rehabilitation swaps conventional rigid electromechanical components for soft fabric with embedded actuators (motors). The glove, dubbed EsoGlove by its National University of Singapore creators, is meant to conform to natural hand movements and is lightweight, portable, and intuitive enough that patients should be able to easily carry out their rehabilitation exercises in their own homes.

Rehabilitation gloves already exist for restoring hand function lost through injury or nerve-related conditions – both in low-cost and commercial versions – but the NUS researchers believe their new device improves upon these. In particular, research team member Jeong Hoon Lim says, its design allows patients to guide their own rehabilitation "rather than being passive recipients of therapists' intervention."

EsoGlove comes in both table-top and waist-belt varieties. The glove part connects to a pump-valve control system, which directs the soft actuators embedded in the glove by modifying air pressure along the length of each finger. Because the actuators are soft, not rigid, finger movements are aided but not restrained by the glove. And adjustable Velcro straps ensure that the glove should fit most patients.

The robotic glove interprets a patient's intended action by reading electrical activity in their hand muscles and then assists them in completing this task. In theory it should work well with a large range of specific tasks involving objects of various shapes and sizes, but we won't have much data on how well it works in practice until after clinical trials.

EsoGlove is set to begin pilot clinical studies at the National University Hospital in February, where it will not only be tested and validated but also refined according to patient and clinical feedback. The six-month trial will involve 30 patients, and if all goes to plan a commercial product will follow.

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