Don't let carpal tunnel get you down: scientists at Harvard have designed a lightweight robotic glove to aid people with restricted range and mobility, helping them hold, squeeze and pick up objects.

Helmed by technology development fellow Panagiotis Polygerinos at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University, and overseen by Conor Walsh, a professor at the institute, the project aims to aid patients with degenerative disorders, muscular atrophy and various disabilities. Around 6.8 million people in the United States alone have conditions that make picking things up with their hands difficult.

Walsh, who received the Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) in March 2015 to continue his research on soft wearable tech, explained the impetus for the design on the Wyss Institute's website:

"Traditional robotic systems don't translate easily from industrial settings to medical and home applications. One of the main reasons is because rigid components pose safety risks for people. We are overcoming that hurdle by designing soft robotic systems made of elastomers, fibers and textiles. A major aim of this work is to advance the state of the art of wearable robotics and intuitive human-robot interaction." 

In other words: comfort and safety are key for the glove's projected users, so they are key for the glove's design.

The glove is structurally minimal. Small silicone balloons serve as fingers, which are connected to each other by a light fabric — creating an exo-suit. Slim rubber tubes circle each finger for gripping purposes. The apparatus is attached to a waist pack, which pumps pressurized water into the glove to incite a single bending motion and is activated by voice command or the flip of a switch.

A prototype of the glove has already been tested on nine study participants, some of whom have been diagnosed with muscular dystrophy and ALS. 

 

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