Thinking Tech

Smart rehab gloves for 500 bucks

Smart rehab gloves for 500 bucks

Posting in Design

Smart rehab gloves for $500 promises to bring sophisticated in-home rehab to stroke victims at low cost.

A group of researchers at Northeastern University (NU) in Boston claim they have developed inexpensive rehab gloves that help stroke victims and wounded vets regain their their fine motor skills.

The news is that NU says the gloves can be manufactured for $500, a fraction for what they have typically cost. The IEEE Spectrum surveyed glove-based that can track hand movements in 2008. It's a growing field starting on the low end technologically with the popular Wii game controller. I also found a $2000 system called The Pinch Glove that can pick up virtual objects.

Call the ATLAS (Tracking and Location at Home System) Bimanual Rehabilitation System, the gloves monitor movement in the hands and arms as the wearer plays virtual reality games. They were developed in the NU Biomedical Mechatronics Laboratory, which focuses on robotics and mechatronics.

NU Researcher Caitlin Brintz tries out the rehab glove. credit: NU

"We were trying to develop a low-cost virtual-environment based glove system that can be used for motor retraining of the arm, hand, fingers and thumb in patients who have suffered a stroke,” Associate Professor of Physical Therapy Maureen Holden said in a press statement. “The idea … is to keep the cost low enough and the features simple enough that patients can afford to buy one and use it independently in their homes.”

Glove-based systems can cost up to $10,000. At 1/20th of that, ATLAS is aimed at those who cannot afford in home rehab or who are too far away from a treatment center. Holden teamed up with NU engineering students and mechanical and industrial engineering professor Constantinos Mavroidis to develop ATLAS.

Holden said so far two prototype pairs of the gloves have been developed and they are seeking a partner to make and commercialize the system. She added that the virtual reality software is partially done as well.

The original goal was to make the gloves at $250 each since some stroke victims will not need both gloves. The glove project grew out of an arm motion tracking system Holden developed as a MIT research scientist.

As an aside, the study of mechatronics applies several engineering disciplines to a project, focusing heavily on electrical and mechanical engineering.

Most mechanical devices or machines have electrical and electronic components so students in engineering programs are taught a little bit everything outside their core major so the scope of their knowledge applies to many aspects of a project instead of a few. Mechatronics is especially useful in smaller design and engineering teams where resources are scarce (engineers got used to doing more with less long before the rest of us...).

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John Dodge

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor John Dodge has written for the Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, PC Week (now eWeek), EDN, Design News, Electronic Business, Bio-IT World, Health-IT World, Lowell Sun, Haverhill Gazette and Newburyport Daily News. He is based in Massachusetts. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure