Electronic Glove Gives Prosthetic Hands Human-Like Features

The e-glove developed by researchers at Purdue University can be worn over prosthetic hands to provide human-like softness, warmth and appearance.

Many researchers are working to improve the quality of prosthetics for people who’ve lost limbs. Researchers at Purdue University have put a slightly different twist on this work with the development of an electronic glove, or e-glove, that can be worn over a prosthetic to improve the experience.

Those who wear prosthetic hands can wear the technology—developed by a team led by Chi Hwan Lee, an assistant professor in Purdue’s College of Engineering—over that prosthetic to provide human-like softness, warmth, and appearance, researchers said.

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An electronic glove, or e-glove, developed by Purdue University researchers can be worn over a prosthetic hand to provide humanlike softness, warmth, appearance and sensory perception. (Image source: Purdue University)

The e-glove also improves the person’s ability to sense various aspects of real-world interaction that people feel in their natural hands, such as pressure, temperature and hydration, researchers said.

This human-like experience is the difference between an e-glove and some other research aimed at improving the mobility of prosthetics, researchers said. Rather than focus on sheer functionality, Lee’s team aimed to develop a technology to improve the mental health and well-being of the wearer by improving social interaction, he said.

“The prospective end user could be any prosthetic hand users who have felt uncomfortable wearing current prosthetic hands, especially in many social contexts,” Lee said in a press statement.

State-of-the-Art Design

Technologically, researchers took a rather unique approach that combined state-of-the-art thin and flexible electronic sensors and miniaturized silicon-based circuit chips on a commercially available nitrile glove.

Researchers designed a wristwatch that they connected to the glove to allow for users to access a real-time display of sensory data and remote transmission to for post-data processing.

 “The e-glove is configured with a stretchable form of multimodal sensors to collect various information such as pressure, temperature, humidity, and electrophysiological bio-signals, while simultaneously providing realistic human hand-like softness, appearance and even warmth,” he said in the press statement.

The team designed the glove to be one size fits all, Lee said. It also is available in different skin-tone colors and features life-like fingerprints and artificial fingernails to give it more of a human look and feel, he said.

Researchers published a paper on their work in the journal NPG Asia Materials. They also posted a video on YouTube showing how the e-glove works.

Researchers kept high-volume manufacturing in mind when designing the e-glove, making it cost-effective, they said. They currently are seeking partners to collaborate in clinical trials or experts in the prosthetics field to validate the use of the e-glove. They also plan to continue optimizing its design, Lee said.

“My group is devoted to developing various wearable biomedical devices, and my ultimate goal is to bring these technologies out of the lab and help many people in need,” he said in a press statement. “This research represents my continued efforts in this context.”

Elizabeth Montalbano is a freelance writer who has written about technology and culture for more than 20 years. She has lived and worked as a professional journalist in Phoenix, San Francisco and New York City. In her free time she enjoys surfing, traveling, music, yoga and cooking. She currently resides in a village on the southwest coast of Portugal.

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