For patients suffering from the effects of a stroke, ALS or muscular dystrophy, routine tasks like picking up a cup or grabbing a doorknob can be infuriatingly difficult. That's due to their lack of hand strength or fine motor control. However, this prototype "soft robotic" glove may soon restore their gripping abilities by doing the heavy squeezing for them. Developed by a research team at Harvard University, the glove is designed to augment the user's remaining hand strength and mobility. The device works by filling small water bladders located in each finger. When water from a reservoir on the wrist is pumped in, the fingers (and thumb) curl over in a grasping motion. Right now, that's all the glove is capable of doing. Still, that's enough for users to be able pick up and manipulate small objects they were not able to before.
"It's really simple, because all you do is pressurize it and you get this nice complex motion," Conor Walsh, professor at Harvard's Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, told MIT Technology Review. "The downside is, it's that one motion all the time." Still, it's better than the alternative.
The research team, led by Harvard fellow Panagiotis Polygerinos, believes that the technology should be ready for medical applications within three years. Hopefully they can eliminate some weight from the nearly 8 pound device by then.
[Image Credit: Harvard]