The project is based on the concept of a robotic glove that can add extra strength to the grip for persons with reduced hand function. The Iron Hand gloves can be worn as any other gloves together with a power unit that is placed on the arm or on the back of the user and the embedded software adjusts the amount of extra force to the grip intention of the user. The glove will have a slim design and the same look and feel as a regular glove, as its weight is aimed to remain under 70 gram and the total weight (including power unit) is aimed to remain under 400 g.
The consortium is targeting the elderly market, in particular, enabling older adults with impaired hand function due to weak grip to continue managing their work occupation and community activities while preserving health and motivation to remain active. Weak grip is a common condition of older adults preventing them from performing everyday activities such as gardening, handiwork, etc. It can result from sarcopenia (normal degenerative loss of muscle mass related to aging) or be a consequence of acute diseases (such as stroke) or chronic diseases (such as rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis).
Lack of exercise is currently thought to be a significant risk factor for sarcopenia. Not only muscle but the entire musculoskeletal system of muscle, neuromuscular responsiveness, endocrine function, vasocapillary access, tendon, joint, ligament, and bone, depends on regular and lifelong exercise to maintain integrity. Exercise and increases in activity have been shown to be beneficial in settings of sarcopenia, even in the very old. Therefore, the Iron Hand glove will incorporate intelligent algorithms in order to adapt the level of support so it still requires a mildly challenging effort from the user, instead of completely replacing the user force.
In addition, low handgrip strength has been consistently linked to premature mortality, disability and other health complications in middle-aged and older people. Therefore monitoring handgrip activities may not only identify older people at risk of a disability but may also aid in increasing the life expectancy of the elderly by being able to apply the correct strategies to help maintain muscle strength. Therefore, the Iron Hand glove will be able to collect usage data and remotely send the data to the user’s doctor or therapist. This function will be particularly important for the therapeutic applications of the glove (stroke rehabilitation, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis).
The project will seek to develop a robotic glove specifically adapted for functional tasks in elderly occupation:
· The glove can provide extra force for opening and closing the hand in order to address grasping weakness.
· The glove is triggered by an “intention detection” logic that activates the support if and only if the user initiates the movement by a natural and intuitive movement intention (using advanced technologies such as electromyography detection to capture very early movement preparation) and maintains the grip pressure as needed.
· The glove can be connected to an external display (mobile device or PC) that allows the user to perform specific, computer-game-like exercises tied to functional tasks in elderly occupation in order to keep the motivation to remain active.
The project will also implement prototype software including:
· Adaptive training software tracking the user’s daily activities. This means the exercise program will be constructed after analysing environmental data of the user (users will get different programs based on the type of occupation they have).
· Monitoring and analysis software consisting of a user module (to display in a user-friendly way the activities over time) and a clinician module (to send remotely data captured from the glove to the user’s doctor or therapist).
In summary, the Iron Hand project aims to develop a glove device that can be used to support older elderly occupation and provide valuable therapeutic data on grip strength, allowing the users to receive better treatment to maintain muscle strength and increase their life expectancy, as well as helping them to recover faster from injuries or other hand mobility impairing diseases.