3D printed gloves for rehabilitating stroke patients

Friday May 13, 2022 at 4:51 pm

Researchers at the Department of Physics at the prestigious Indian Institute of Science (IISC) have developed 3D printed gloves that can be remotely controlled. That opens the possibility of teleconsultation by physiotherapists. The product is a customizable, soft, wearable device that exploits the fundamental properties of light to sense a patient’s limb or finger movements.

The researchers claim that the device has been tested for stability over the last ten months, and they found no loss of sensitivity or accuracy. The device has been entirely designed and manufactured in India and is expected to cost less than Rs. 1,000. A patent has been filed for the device.

“We hope that the 3-D gloves will be launched soon. It can be extended to applications like augmented reality and real-time monitoring of health parameters. In India, stroke is the third leading cause of fatality and the sixth cause of disability. Physiotherapy is one of the few treatments available for rehabilitating stroke victims and patients with physical injuries. However, physiotherapy can take days to months depending on the severity of the disability, making it challenging for patients and their attendants. To support such patients, we wanted to develop something affordable and available to a person at all times at their convenience. The product should be easy to use and must provide feedback,” claimed Aveek Bid. He is the Associate Professor at the Department of Physics, IISC, whose team has developed the device.

Moreover, physiotherapy often requires daily hospital visits, home visits by professionals, or sophisticated devices to monitor patients remotely; they are not readily available and are expensive. That is where this technology comes in. The team developed a mechanism by which customizable wearables like hand gloves can be designed, 3D printed, and controlled remotely.

“The idea behind the device is that you wear something like a glove; the physiotherapist controls the device from a remote location through the internet and makes your hands and fingers move,” they claimed. He said that the device can easily sense various hand and finger movements and precisely detect parameters like pressure, bending angle, and shape.

The technology uses the fundamental properties of light: refraction and reflection. A light source must be placed at one end of a transparent rubbery material, while the other has a light detector. Any movements in the fingers or arms of the patient cause the flexible material to change the form, and the change in form alters the path of light and its properties. The device translates that change in the light properties to a quantifiable unit. Since light can travel across the entire length of the device, the movement along any part of the patient’s fingers or arms can be accurately measured, claimed the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) in its communication.

The device is also highly sensitive in response to the touch of a butterfly. While existing devices can only detect the bending of a finger, the new device can even measure the degrees of bending at every joint of the finger, Abhijit Chandra Roy observed. He is from the DST-Inspire Faculty, Department of Physics, b Indian Institute of Science (IISc), and the brain behind the project.

For their device, the  Indian Institute of Science (IISc) researchers used a transparent silicon-based polymer material, thus facilitating the manipulation of light. It is soft for the patient’s comfort and enables repeated use. The device’s most significant advantage is that it can be customized to fit any patient’s arm and fingers. The device can also capture and store data and transmit it over the internet. That can facilitate remote monitoring by clinicians or physiotherapists, commented the researchers.