A Complete Guide to Assistive Robotic Gloves

Assistive Robotic Glove Feature Image

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What is an Assistive Robotic Glove?

An assistive robotic glove is any powered device that helps someone with weakness or a lack of movement in their natural hand to grasp objects.

The device may be a glove or it could be a hand exoskeleton — it doesn’t matter. The main feature is to augment the user’s grasping capabilities.

This is usually necessary because the natural hand has lost function due to paralysis, arthritis, or another disease or injury.

Design Considerations for Assistive Robotic Gloves

There are two driving considerations when designing assistive robotic gloves:

  1. The user’s degree of movement and/or strength in the natural hand.
  2. The fact that the natural hand is still present.

The degree of movement and/or strength in the natural hand is important because it dictates the level of required augmentation. If the natural hand has complete movement but is weak, the design requirement is merely to tighten or strengthen the hand’s grip after the thumb and fingers have already moved into a grasping position. The NUADA glove is an excellent example of this design. It never forces the digits to move but it can augment the user’s grip sufficiently to lift 40 kilograms, which is roughly equivalent to the unisex average maximum grip force of a natural hand.

If the user cannot move his hand, then the assistive device must move it for him. In this case, designers must be very careful not to damage the natural hand. The NeoMano is an excellent example of this type of device.

Note how the Neomano will force the user’s index and middle fingers to close but only under direct control via control buttons. Also, the grip strength is limited to a lift capacity of only 2 kilograms, so even if the user accidentally forces the fingers to close at the wrong time, this is unlikely to cause injury.

There is one other subtlety to this glove: the user must have the ability to at least relax his fingers to help open them. This is because the glove cannot force the fingers open. It can only help close them. When the user causes the glove to release an object, all it does is essentially release the tension that was previously applied to the fingers via the artificial tendons. The fingers must have sufficient mobility to take advantage of this relaxed state.

What happens if the user needs more assistance either in forming a greater variety of grips or helping to open the fingers? This is where hand exoskeletons like the Tenoexo come into play. It is designed to help users with a broad range of hand impairments. Control is enacted via various types of buttons, voice control, or glove sensors, depending on the user’s requirements, and may include the ability to force the hand’s digits to open as well as close:

User Considerations

The degree of movement and/or strength in a user’s hand drives purchase decisions the same way that it drives design considerations. Are you looking for something that will help move your fingers or just something to increase your grip strength?

The added factor for users is whether they expect their natural capabilities to improve over time. If so, they need to map out a rehabilitation plan that may span several devices as they go from less natural movement/strength to more.

If a user’s budget is limited, this may dictate using only rehabilitative devices in the early stages of recovery versus assistive devices later on, i.e. after natural movement capabilities have plateaued.

Rehabilitative Devices

Depending on the nature of the hand impairment, assistive devices can be rehabilitative, as the act of using one’s hand can improve its movement and strength.

However, some devices are designed solely to assist with rehabilitation, especially following a stroke or other neurological event. These devices do not assist the user with daily activities. Instead, they use a combination of technologies to encourage patients to perform their daily rehabilitation exercises. Here is one example that uses a primarily physical model:

Here is another device that uses primarily virtual training:

To be clear, we don’t cover these types of devices. Nor do we cover the hand components of military or industrial exoskeletons, or gloves with haptic feedback that can be used to control robotic arms or other scientific devices.

We cover only healthcare assistive devices, which are devices that assist people with daily activities.

The Technologies Used in Assistive Robotic Gloves

As is the case with many bionic technologies, scientists and engineers have considered every possible way of moving, controlling, and powering assistive hand devices. Courtesy of a study titled, A Review of Active Hand Exoskeletons for Rehabilitation and Assistance, here is a chart of technologies that have been explored so far.

Robotic Glove Technology Components

And here are the additional details for just one component — actuation:

Robotic Glove Actuation Components

Some of these components may be complimentary, such as the different types of potential sensory feedback in the first chart, while others may be competing technologies such as the pneumatic vs hydraulic options.

Why are we showing you this? Because many of these potential components are design choices that can significantly impact the value of a robotic glove to you. You will need to understand the implication of these choices if you are to make a wise purchase decision.

For example:

  • Artificial tendons (shown as cables in the first chart) seem to have won the war as the preferred method of power transmission for devices that look like gloves. However, where such devices must move the user’s digits, they can only do so in a closing action, i.e. they cannot actively help open the digits. The only exception to this is the Emovo Assist, which is more like a glove/exoskeleton hybrid.
  • The only device that we have seen with an alternative method of power transmission that is near commercialization is the Tenoexo, which uses a three-layered sliding spring mechanism instead of artificial tendons. As a result, it can actively assist in opening the hand’s digits and it can also form more adaptive grips.

Research labs continue to explore some of the other technology components shown in the preceding chart. Should one of them make it to market, you must question both its benefits and drawbacks, as technical choices almost always involve trade-offs.

Current Assistive Robotic Gloves

Available Models

The following is a list of assistive robotic gloves or hand exoskeletons that are either already on the market or will be in the foreseeable future:

CarbonHandPreviously called the “SEM Glove”. A soft robotic glove similar in concept to that of the NUADA, though not as compact. It uses pressure sensors and powered tendons to proportionally augment grip. The more pressure applied naturally, the more the CarbonHand augments the grip.$7,000 USCurrently for sale in Sweden, Norway, Belgium, Germany, Italy, and Japan
Emovo AssistA kind of hybrid glove/exoskeleton designed by Emovo Care to help those with mild or partial weakness on one side of the body. It is similar to the Neomano in that it uses a simple push-button control to close the hand’s digits. But its exoskeleton design also allows it to actively open the digits.???Currently conducting trials in Switzerland
NeomanoA soft robotic glove that can actively help the user close their index and middle fingers at the press of a button. Enables people with hand paralysis to perform daily activities like holding a drink, brushing their teeth, or turning a doorknob to open a door. Can hold up to 2 kilograms.$2,000 USCurrently for sale in the U.S., U.S territories, and Canada
NUADAA soft robotic glove that uses thin, breathable, flexible, and smart textiles combined with sensors and powered tendons to help users grip objects. The powered tendons follow the movement of the natural hand and then automatically lock in to secure the grip. Can also ratchet to a tighter grip in response to an explicit user action. Is capable of holding up to 40 kilograms.$4,000 USCurrently for sale globally
Tenoexo A true hand exoskeleton with multiple control options including various types of buttons, voice control, glove sensors. Because of this, it has the potential to assist patients with a broader range of hand impairments.???Still in development

To see a more detailed article on each device, simply click the relevant link.

If you want to track just availability and prices, bookmark our Assistive Robotic Glove Price List, which consists mainly of just the preceding table.

Latest Research Articles

To keep you informed of the latest research on assistive gloves, we will be adding research articles here.

User Satisfaction Reports

We collect user satisfaction data on all the bionic devices that we cover. However, since we just started covering assistive robotic gloves in January 2022, it may be 2024 or 2025 before we have sufficient user feedback to publish it.

Real Stories for Assistive Robotic Gloves

As we get to know the user community for this type of device, we inevitably come across inspiring or informative user stories. As that happens, we will post those stories here.

We do not have any related information to post here at this moment. As we expand into arm, leg, and full lower-body exoskeleton assistive devices throughout 2022, look for the related guides in this section.