Robotic exoskeleton improves lives of people with limited or no hand mobility

The Engineering Design and Technological Development Group (DIDET), from the University of Alicante ArtefactosLAB, has once again taken a step forward in terms of social innovation with the design of a new handheld robotic exoskeleton. Named [flick], this robotic exoskeleton improves the lives of people with limited or no ability to move due to neurological and/or physiological disorders.

This is a portable, economical, and user-adaptable 3D printed exoskeleton aimed at helping those people who have low or no muscle tone due to neurological disorders, chronic pathologies, or any type of accident that has left their hands without mobility, as explained by UA researcher and engineer Javier Esclapés.

The device, already patented and inspired by artificial intelligence, is made of a flexible, breathable and liquid-resistant material, and designed under parameters of economic, environmental and social sustainability. [Flick] is the prototype phase and can be manufactured anywhere in the world adapted to the needs of the user or rehabilitation professional, who will be able to self-manufacture and customised their own technology in a short time and at minimum cost. This aspect also means savings in logistics and distribution. In this sense, Artefactos is looking for companies or institutions interested in supporting the development of this exoskeleton or in the design and manufacture of further devices with social purposes.

Innovations

Both the design and the manufacturing process of the exoskeleton patented by the University of Alicante have been optimised so that it can be produced using a 3D printer which, together with the use of three-dimensional models, turns it into an alternative production process to replace the conventional one.

Its application within assistive technologies opens endless possibilities to improve the quality of life of people with functional diversity due to the low cost of materials, speed of manufacture and freedom of design that allows users to approach personal needs. This means that the sample handheld robotic exoskeleton can be scaled to a more specific measure, starting from the measures of the user’s hand and without the need to make a new design, UA researcher reported.

According to Javier Esclapés, 3D printing is a technique that can be applied to satisfy any need demanded by society and is especially useful for those people with functional diversity to help them with their medical problems, as well as with their education, job or mobility.

Alternative solution

Currently, Esclapés points out that there are different systems to help those who cannot move their fingers. On the one hand, there are conventional hand exoskeletons made of rigid materials with a complex mechanism for its operation. These features make their volume extremely large and heavy and, therefore, not functional for the user. Also, its mechanism and volume causes dirt to remain on the components and makes it impossible for the user to use the exoskeleton until each component gets cleaned, he added.

On the other hand, there are rehabilitation gloves that detect muscle signals, although they only allow for movement of three fingers: thumb, index and middle. Another system is the pneumatic exoskeleton, which presents a problem common to the previous options, as it is very expensive, making it an inaccessible product with complex technology and assembly for the user, as Javier Esclapés suggested

ArtefactosLAB

ArtefactosLAB, is a multidisciplinary research project that seeks to generate open-source alternative and accessible solutions for the autonomy and quality of life of people with functional diversity, through collaborative design, technology and innovation. This social initiative is promoted by the Engineering Design and Technological Development Group (DIDET), the Department of Graphic Expression, Design and Projects, and the  University of Alicante Polytechnic School.

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