Scientists Develop Gloves with Inflatable ‘Banana Fingers’ and Sensory Yarn to Help Restore Grip
When your average person sees bananas, potassium and nutrition may come to mind, but scientists from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), see the possibility of restoring finger muscle movement and grip. This can be credited to their development of assistive gloves that have banana-like inflatable fingers and sensory yarn that uses soft pneumatic actuators, or compressed air, to generate motion.
Dubbed “banana fingers” by many because the assistive gloves look like just that – big ripe yellow bananas, but in reality, they are the foundation in an array of applications, including assistive wearables, robotics, and rehabilitative technologies. These assisted gloves can grip objects like a tennis ball, a can of soda, etc. These soft pneumatic actuators are called “PneuAct” and they are known to be inherently accommodating and flexible. As mentioned, by using compressed air to power motion accompanied by sensing capabilities, these devices evolve to a more high-tech, soft robotic level.
With the help of an autonomous knitting machine (which is comparable to a conventional plastic needle knitting machine), a human designer only needs to specify the stitch and sensor design patterns in the software to program how the actuator will maneuver. Then, the actuator can be simulated before printing. The material is made by the knitting machine, which can be secured to an “inexpensive, off-the-shelf rubber silicone tube to complete the actuator.”
The knitted actuator incorporates conductive yarn for sensing. In other words, the actuator can ‘feel’ what it’s touching. So, when the glove grasps an object, its pressure sensor can sense the amount of force being applied and therefore adjust accordingly. For example, if someone struggles with muscle control, the gloves can assist in obtaining a firm grip by pumping air in to assist with opening and closing. Therefore, this innovative glove can reduce the amount of muscle activity needed to complete tasks and assist people with injury, limited mobility, or trauma to the fingers. Who knew “banana fingers” could be so amazing!
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