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NUS invents robotic glove that helps patients restore hand movements

Zafirah Salim | Jan. 12, 2016
Called EsoGlove, it detects muscle signals and guides the hand to perform rehabilitation exercises.

Picture credits to National University of Singapore

A research team from the National University of Singapore (NUS) has developed a smart rehabilitation device to help patients who have lost their hand functions due to injuries or nerve-related conditions, such as stroke and muscular dystrophy, to restore their hand movements.

Called EsoGlove, this device is unlike conventional robotic hand rehabilitation devices that usually involve rigid electromechanical components that are heavy and uncomfortable for patients. Instead, it is made entirely of soft components, which allows it to conform to the natural movements of the human hand, reducing discomfort and risk of injury.

Another key feature of the glove is that it is equipped with sensors to detect muscle signals. The intuitive control mechanism involves the coupling of electromyography and radio-frequency identification technologies. This 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, 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.

EsoGlove also comes in a table-top version for bedridden patients, as well as a waist-belt version for patients who are mobile and recovering at home.

"For patients to restore their hand functions, they need to go through rehabilitation programmes that involve repetitive tasks such as gripping and releasing objects. These exercises are often labour intensive and confined to clinical settings," said Assistant Professor Raye Yeow, who is from the NUS Department of Biomedical Engineering and also a key member of the research team.

"EsoGlove is designed to enable patients to carry out rehabilitation exercises in various settings - in the hospital wards, rehabilitation centres and even at home. Equipped with technology that can detect and interpret muscle signals, EsoGlove can also assist patients in daily activities, such as guiding the fingers to perform tasks such as holding a cup," he added.  

Besides Asst Prof Yeow, the research team is made up of his clinical collaborator Dr Lim Jeong Hoon from the NUS Department of Medicine, as well as PhD candidate Yap Hong Kai and undergraduate student Benjamin Ang Wee Keong, who are both from the NUS Department of Biomedical Engineering.

According to a media statement, the research team plans to start pilot clinical studies at the National University Hospital in February 2016 to validate the device's performance, as well as to obtain patient and clinical feedback in order to further refine the design of the device. The studies will take about six months, involving 30 patients.

In addition, the team has also filed a patent for EsoGlove, and will establish a spin-off company to commercialise the device.


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