SINGAPORE: A four-men research team from the National University of Singapore (NUS) has invented a new smart robotic glove to assist and rehabilitate patients who have lost hand functions due to injuries or nerve-related conditions.
Unveiled on Monday (Jan 11), the EsoGlove took two years to develop and is made of materials like stretchable lycra, spandex, and silicon rubber, which are washable. It also reduces discomfort and risk of injury compared to existing hard robotic hand rehabilitation devices, which have rigid linkages and can only move in one plane of motion.
The glove uses an intuitive system which detects the user's muscle signals using a forearm controller so it can guide the person to perform the intended task. A radio-frequency identification (RFID) reader on the glove can also be used to scan tags that correspond to a particular action, like pinching or grasping. These tags can be pasted on items, making it easy for wearers at home to link these actions to objects. All they have to do is tap the reader on the tag, and the tentacle-like fingers of the glove will gradually guide the user’s hand movement.
The glove can also be used with a table-top control system, where the action can be performed with the press of a button, according to the researchers.
A key member of the research team, Assistant Professor Raye Yeow from the NUS Department of Biomedical Engineering, said: “The patient can wear it by the bedside, then the device can help them move their hands through a customised therapy session without the therapist having to be there.
"The other way is for the patients to bring it home, and this device can give them a more intuitive control of objects within their home environment.
“In the long run, we expect patients to have an improved range of motion, because this device will automatically move their hand into the desired therapy exercises,” he added.
BRINGING COSTS DOWN
It is hoped the EsoGlove will help in stimulating the brain's neural activity in stroke patients, so that they may possibly regain some control of their affected hand, the researchers said.
Starting February, the Esoglove will be tested and evaluated in a pilot clinical trial involving 30 stroke patients at the National University Hospital over a period of six months.
During this time, they will be using the glove five days a week in their therapy sessions. Throughout the trial, the patients' brain activity will be monitored with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans to see if there is stimulation to the brain motor cortex during these exercises. After the trial, the research team will use the feedback to improve the glove’s capabilities. Eventually, the team hopes to commercialise the EsoGlove and make it available to bedridden and at-home patients, they said.
Existing hard robotic hand rehabilitation devices cost approximately US$20,000 to US$30,000, and Dr Yeow said the team hopes to bring the price of their smart glove down to 10 per cent of those figures.
In Singapore, there are 10,000 stroke patients admitted to hospitals per year. According to the World Stroke Organisation, 15 million people worldwide suffer a stroke, potentially leading to an impairment in hand functions.