Soft Robotic Glove: Lends A Helping Hand To The Disabled

Low self-esteem and high levels of frustration are commonplace among people with hand motor-impaired disabilities due to their inability  to perform every day tasks. Something as simple as picking up a phone, tying a shoelace or fastening a blouse can be overwhelming and adversley affect the quality of life we all deserve.

Over the course of the last few decades there have been gadgets and innovations that have improved things, but nothing has been as monumentally life-changing as the new soft robotic glove created by the engineers at Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering and Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Science (SEAS).


Soft Robotic Glove: Source: BioDesigns.SEAS.HarvardSoft Robotic Glove: Source: BioDesigns.SEAS.Harvard


Who is Conor Walsh?

At the helm of reserach engineers is wearable robotics expert, PhD. Conor Walsh, Assistant Professor of Mechanical and BioMedical Engineering and Applied Sciences. He received his B.A.I.and B.A. degrees in Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering from Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, in 2003, and M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Mechanical Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2006 and 2010. He has been the recipient of over a dozen awards, including the MIT $100K business plan competition, Whitaker Health Sciences Fund Fellowship and the MIT Graduate Student Mentor of the Year.


Conor Walsh: Source: SEAS.HarvardConor Walsh: Source: SEAS.Harvard


The Harvard BioDesign Lab

Walsh is the founder of the Harvard BioDesign Lab whose focus is the development of portable wearable robots to assist the disabled and further the understanding of how humans interface with machine. Aided by reserachers from many industries including: engineering, industrial design, apparel, clinical and business, this lab develops robotic devices aimed at enhancing human performance via the application of innovative technologies.

The soft robotic glove

The soft robotic glove is designed specifically to allow people with hand motor-control dfficulties to live more independantly by allowing them to more easily carry out everyday tasks like eating or picking up a phone. By constantly interacting with patients that were part of the project, the design of the soft robotic glove  has evolved to be comfortable with a very natural feel.

According to Walsh,"From the start of the project, we've focused on understanding the real-world challenges facing these patients by visiting them in their homes to perform research. We are continuing to test the design of the soft robotic glove on patients, in relation to making it customizable for the specific pathologies of each individual and understanding which control strategies work best – but we're already seeing a lot of exciting proof-of-concept experimental results."

Special features of the soft robotic glove

Multi-segment actuators, which are tube-like constructions made from Kevlar fibers and silicone elastomer, allow fingers to perform a wide range of motions. The glove's portable control system can be attached  to either a wheelchair or worn on a waist belt.

One of the biggest challenges so far is the glove's control system's ability to detect the wearer's intent. The soft robotic glove is still a work in progress, and the research team is devoted to capturing brain signals and directing them to move the hand in the desired direction. This is essential because the team hopes to develop the glove so that it will serve as both a rehabilitation tool as well as an assistive device.

The future of the soft robotic glove

The glove's design has been published in the journal, Robotics and Autonomous Systems, and the team has also recenty presented the glove at the International Conference on Robotics and Automation. This coming August at the International Conference on Robotics Research in Singapore, Walsh and his team will present the soft robotic hand.

 The stage is now set for a new play starring wearable robotics and a promising strategy for those whose lives are hampered by poor hand-motor control.

Closing thoughts on robotics:

Your living room is the final frontier for robots. ~ Cynthia Breazeal


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