- Hand wearable device for rehabilitation
- At home and clinic use
- Deliver high repetitions for effective functional recovery
- Connected device to get feedback from therapist
Soft Robotic Glove for Neuromuscular Rehabilitation
A soft robotic glove designed designed to facilitate home-based rehabilitation for stroke survivors with hand impairment through repetitive stretching exercises
Wyss startup Imago Rehab launched in 2021 to commercialize the soft robotic glove for at-home rehabilitation for stroke survivors.
The majority of people with neurological conditions, such as stroke and spinal cord injury, suffer from loss of motor function in one or both hands, which can greatly reduce their quality of life. Tasks often taken for granted become frustrating or nearly impossible due to tight and spastic muscles, reduced grasping strength, and general lack of coordination in the hand. While occupational therapy can help restore function, it requires a high number of repetitions of hand exercises to be effective, and many patients lack access to consistent treatment due to high cost or travel requirements.
The Wyss’ soft robotic glove provides an at-home option for therapeutic hand exercises to improve patients’ dexterity and restore function. The glove has inflatable chambers that gently bend and straighten the fingers, providing the stretching and repetitive exercise needed to restore lost hand function. Low pressure and comfortable materials make this device safe and desirable for repeated use. The minimalist form factor of soft robotics allows users to go about their daily activities without discomfort or frustration while wearing the glove in its unpowered state, and then smoothly transition into the glove’s powered assistance when they begin their therapeutic routine. The glove’s control system is portable and lightweight and can be placed on a tabletop or attached to a wheelchair. Feedback collected from sensors in the glove can be sent to an occupational therapist, who can modify the rehabilitation program and assess progress in real time without the patient having to visit the office.
The soft robotic glove was developed in the lab of Associate Faculty member Conor Walsh, Ph.D., whose research in wearable soft robotics has led to the creation of multiple devices to repair or enhance the function of the shoulder, back, and ankle. A group of scientists in the lab, including occupational therapist Kristin Nuckols, O.T.D., M.O.T., O.T.R./L., research and user designer Chrissy Glover, M.Des., apparel designer Diana Wagner, and systems engineer Diogo Schwerz de Lucena, Ph.D., decided to take on the challenge of applying that technology to the hand, which contains smaller bones and more degrees of motion than other joints.
Over the course of several years, they designed, built, and refined a soft robotic glove device that would provide the effective therapy patients need in a convenient form factor they want. To make the glove comfortable and natural feeling to wearers, the actuators powering the movements of the glove were made smaller and modified over several iterations of design to distribute forces more evenly over the wearer’s fingers and thumb. The team eventually homed in on stroke patients as their target population, and worked with potential end users at every step of testing and development, to provide valuable input on the device’s form and function. This “bench-to-bedside” approach ensured that the device not only worked, but incorporated design elements that made it more readily useable by patients, such as the ability to put the glove on and take it off by themselves using their functional hand.
In 2021 the soft robotic glove was licensed to startup Imago Rehab, which aims to commercialize the soft robotic glove for rehabilitation for use by stroke survivors at home. Led by Glover as CEO and Nuckols as Clinical Programming Lead, the company has also added a telehealth component to their product to maximize patients’ access to care. Since its launch, Imago has been awarded a grant from the Advanced Functional Fabrics of America Institute, completed a pre-seed investment round, and opened its virtual clinic to its first stroke patients. The company is continuing to refine its prototype device and is in the process of establishing credentials with insurance payers to enable reimbursement for its telehealth sessions. It also hopes to expand its offerings into other areas of rehabilitation such as physical therapy, speech therapy, and mental health support.