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Soft Robotic Glove Aims to Improve Hand Rehabilitation

Hand Exoskeleton

L-R: Ryan Landrith, Caleb Nothnagle, Prashant Savant, Dr. Muthu Wijesundara, Dr. Katie Carrigan, Pooja Keskar, & Dr. Mahdi Haghshenas-Jaryani,

Researchers at the University of Texas at Arlington Research Institute (UTARI) are developing a Soft Robotic Glove that is designed for hand rehabilitation after stroke or surgery. The Glove provides Continuous Passive Motion (CPM) and Active Resistive Motion (ARM), enabling techniques for post-surgery and post-stroke rehabilitation that reduces joint stiffness, helps restore range of motion, and improves strength. CPM and ARM equipment are widely available for knee and shoulder rehabilitation because functional requirements for these single-joint equipment are less complex. Devices for hand rehabilitation are very limited due to relatively small size joints, multiple moving parts with required strength and range of motion, and complexity of the control.

Current commercial rehabilitation and assistive devices are based on conventional (hard) robotics which often provide exoskeleton structures that can offer large force, but are mechanically complex, costly, and prohibitive in size and weight. Alternatively, the soft robotic approach typically utilizes inflatable structures that are less complex, relatively inexpensive, and tend to be a safer option; however, no commercial options for soft robotics currently exist in the rehabilitation market. 

UTARI’s Soft Robotic Glove addresses the shortfalls of current technologies with the use of a soft-rigid pneumatic actuator, a design that offers a low operating pressure, easy fabrication, a lightweight structure, and individual control of joints. The flexible nature of this glove allows it to be adapted to various medical conditions and anatomical features. “Not only does the glove conform more readily to the anatomy of the hand, it’s portable and can be used by the patient wherever they go,” said UTARI research scientist Dr. Katie Carrigan, one of the lead researchers on the project.

A provisional patent application directed to the technology has been filed and the prototype is ready for safety and efficacy evaluation. Researchers believe that the soft-rigid actuator could be used for other robotic applications, such as assistive motion, prosthetic devices, or robotic end-effectors.