Researchers from the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) Department of Physics has developed a new soft wearable device and customisable 3D printed gloves that use the fundamental properties of light to sense a patient’s limb or finger movements. These gloves were developed to help patients undergoing physiotherapy treatment.
Stroke is the third leading cause of death in India, as well as the sixth leading cause of disability. One of the few treatments available for rehabilitating stroke victims and patients with physical injuries is physiotherapy. However, depending on the severity of the disability, physiotherapy can take days to months, making it difficult for patients and their caregivers.
These gloves can also be controlled remotely, allowing physiotherapists to provide teleconsultation.
3D Printed Gloves
According to Bid, quantifiable feedback – such as the units of pressure applied while squeezing a ball or the degree of bending of a leg with a knee injury – is critical for doctors to monitor the patient remotely. This type of feedback can also motivate patients to perform better in each subsequent session.
“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.”– Aveek Bid, Associate Professor at the Department of Physics, whose team has developed the device
Another issue is that physiotherapy frequently necessitates daily hospital visits. Although home visits by professionals or sophisticated devices to remotely monitor patients are ideal, they are not widely available and are expensive.
To address these issues, the team created a mechanism that allows customisable wearables such as hand gloves to be designed, 3D printed, and controlled remotely.
Bid explained, “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. The device can sense various hand and finger movements, and precisely detect parameters like pressure, bending angle and shape.”
The device’s technology is based on two fundamental properties of light: refraction and reflection. A light source is placed at one end of a transparent rubbery material, and a light detector is placed at the other. Any movement of the patient’s finger or arm causes the flexible material to deform. The deformation changes the path of light and, as a result, its properties. The device converts the change in light properties into a measurable unit. Because light travels the entire length of the device, movement along any part of the patient’s finger or arm can be measured precisely.
The researchers used a silicon-based polymer material for their device that is transparent (allowing for light manipulation), soft (for comfort and repeated use), and, most importantly, 3D printed; it can thus be customised to fit each patient’s arm and fingers. The device can also capture and store data and transmit it over the internet, allowing clinicians or physiotherapists to monitor patients remotely.
“The 3D printed gloves are highly sensitive – enough to respond to the touch of a butterfly. In addition, while existing devices can only detect the bending of a finger, the new device can even measure the degree of bending at every joint of the finger.”– Abhijit Chandra Roy, DST-Inspire Faculty at the Department of Physics and the brains behind the project
According to the researchers, the 3D printed gloves have been tested for stability for over ten months and no loss of sensitivity or accuracy has been discovered. The device, according to Bid, was entirely designed and manufactured in India and is expected to cost less than Rs 1,000. The device has been granted a patent, and the researchers hope to put it on the market soon. The method can also be applied to augmented reality and real-time monitoring of health parameters.
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