– By Muhammad Sami Siddiqui, BE Mechatronics ’12, College of Electrical and Mechanical Engineering
The term exoskeleton refers to an external wearable robot that is worn by the user to extend human muscle strength. The actuated hand exoskeleton project is a unique application of Mechatronics and Bio-Engineering. It aims to lend control to the hand of a human individual who is either unable to fully actuate hand’s movements or suffers from weakness in controlling the human body’s natural actuators, i.e. the muscles, pertaining to the hand. The exoskeleton is particularly designed to aid people undergoing post-traumatic rehabilitation therapy or suffer from anomalies of the motor nervous system like partial paralysis of the hand, wrist drop, stroke, accidents, etc.
One of the direct consequences of increase in expenses for medical care is that the stroke patients are receiving less therapy. Therefore, in the recent past, potentialities of robot-mediated therapy have been worked on not to replace the medical work but just to help it both to reinforce a more accurate and repeatable therapy and to quantitatively evaluate the outcome of the patient.
Our mechanical design of the exoskeleton is less complex and more appealing both aesthetically and functionality-wise. It is a light weight mechanism composed of hard plastic and Stainless Steel and is safer to use in most activities of daily life with comparatively little precautions. Its motor actuating design enables it to convey the power swiftly as compared to other models constructed using Mc-Kibben or Linear Actuators. Its simplicity of operation, adaptable nature and smart algorithms give it an edge over many artificial assistive organs being researched on and produced up till now. It has the provision of selecting the type of inputs to be provided from electromyography sensor. It is designed to be compact enough to fit all actuators, locking mechanism, and the physical exoskeleton structure on to one glove.
There are about 6,24,459 disabled people in Pakistan according to 1998 census; the figures could be a lot higher today. We are pioneers to start research in hand exoskeletons in Pakistan. This project is a direct application of supported actuation, a field that is now an active frontier for research internationally. The development of this project ensures the establishment of research and development and awareness of this particular field in Pakistan.
We once looked at these exoskeletons as being the future, except now it turns out that future is approaching much more rapidly than we had expected. Within the next 5 to 10 years, we would possibly see these exoskeletons out on the battlefield helping soldiers. Further down the road, we would also see robotic surgeons in operating rooms being controlled by surgeons in another room. But most likely, even sooner than both of those options, we will see these exoskeletons helping the disabled as well as people with degenerative diseases. The potential for this technology seems endless and the effects it will have on the human race will be monumental.