Design and Preliminary Feasibility Study of a Soft Robotic Glove for Hand Function Assistance in Stroke Survivors
Various robotic exoskeletons have been proposed for hand function assistance during activities of daily living of stroke survivors. However, traditional exoskeletons involve the use of complex rigid systems that impede the natural movement of joints, and thus reduce the wearability and cause discomfort to the user. The objective of this paper is to design and evaluate a soft robotic glove that is able to provide hand function assistance using fabric-reinforced soft pneumatic actuators. These actuators are made of silicone rubber which has an elastic modulus similar to human tissues. Thus, they are intrinsically soft and compliant. Upon air pressurization, they are able to support finger range of motion and generate the desired actuation of the finger joints. In this work, the soft actuators were characterized in terms of their blocked tip force, normal and frictional grip force outputs. Combining the soft actuators and flexible textile materials, a soft robotic glove was developed for grasping assistance during activities of daily living for stroke survivors. The glove was evaluated on five healthy participants for its assisted range of motion and grip strength. Pilot test was performed in two stroke survivors to evaluate the efficacy of the glove in assisting functional grasping activities. Our results demonstrated that the actuators designed in this study could generate desired force output at a low air pressure. The glove had a high kinematic transparency and did not affect the active range of motion of the finger joints when it was being worn by the participants. With the assistance of the glove, the participants were able to perform grasping actions with sufficient assisted-range of motion and grip strength, without any voluntary effort. Additionally, pilot test on stroke survivors demonstrated that the patient’s grasping performance improved with the presence and assistance of the glove. Patient feedback questionnaires also showed high level of patient satisfaction and comfort. In conclusion, this paper has demonstrated the possibility of using soft wearable exoskeletons that are more wearable, lightweight and suitable to be used on a daily basis for hand function assistance of stroke survivors during activities of daily living.