It has been a very interesting year in the world of bionics and we’ve been paying a great deal of attention to that trend here on IPWatchdog. We profiled the innovations of Dr. Hugh Herr, the Intellectual Property Owners Education Foundation’s 2014 Inventor of the Year, which include his revolutionary foot and calf bionic system, the world’s first such prosthetic. Last summer, we took time to note developments in both bionic eyes, which can help restore vision to the blind, as well as mind-controlled bionic arms having the ability to perform delicate operations like picking up a grape without crushing it. In November, we profiled bionic skin innovations at a few American universities that were showing success in restoring the sense of touch to patients.
Over in southeast Asia, there are reports of more developments in bionics which are focused on the human hand, one of the more difficult aspects of the human body to engineer because of its many moving parts and its great importance to our ability to function. Researchers at the National University of Singapore have developed a robotic glove designed to improve patient rehabilitation after injuries or nerve-related conditions that may have affected a person’s full range of motion with his or her hand, such as those suffered by a stroke or from muscular dystrophy.
The robotic glove unit, known as the EsoGlove, is mainly made of fabric which is secured to a user’s hand with Velcro straps and a number of soft actuator components. These soft actuators are pressurized by air to distribute forces along the length of a wearer’s finger to encourage natural movements like bending or twisting. The softness of these actuators, and a lack of complex mechanical constructs found in similar gloves, keeps the glove from restricting the range of motion of a wearer.
The intuitive ability to detect what an EsoGlove wearer is about to touch, giving a wearer even more freedom, is implemented by a control mechanism which relies on electromyography and radio-frequency identification tech that can help distinguish between a pen or a soda can, among other items. The non-ferromagnetic composition of the glove and its actuators enables it to be useful for magnetic resonance imaging studies which investigate brain activity relative to motor performance during rehabilitation of the hand and its nerves.
Such an advance in nerve rehabilitation is welcome news, mainly because of the length of time it takes to recovery from a nerve injury. Nerves typically recover at the rate of about one inch per month and extensive nerve damage can lead to a long-term inability to use muscles properly, as in the case of a stroke. Again, hands are incredibly important to a human’s ability to support itself, so this medical device development is welcome news indeed.
Currently, the EsoGlove has been developed in two configurations to aid patients in various phases of recovery. Patients who are still in the hospital can use a table-top version of the EsoGlove to begin rehabilitation while bedridden. At home, a waist-belt version of the EsoGlove affords more mobility to patients who are still recovering after discharge.