Progress at hand

Update ironHand project after 2½ years

From November 2015 – May 2016, a total of 69 participants (across the Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland) completed the user tests with the second prototype of the ironHand system. During these tests, several hand function tests were performed with and without the ironHand glove to evaluate the direct impact of wearing the glove. Preliminary results already shows that participants can produce more pinch grip strength with the glove compared to without the glove. On the other hand, functional tasks were performed slower with the glove compared to performance without the glove. Participants of the user tests mentioned that they experienced a loss of sensation while wearing the glove, resulting in a negative effect on the performance of fine motor skills. Remarkably, participants were positive about the usability of the iH system, despite the slower functional performance times with the glove. All users feedback was used by the technical partners (Bioservo Technologies AB in Sweden and Hocoma AG in Switzerland) to improve and continue the development of the ironHand system.

Besides the performance of the orthotic tests, the first therapeutic user tests have been started in June 2016. In this ongoing study, so far 29 elderly (>55 years) and 3 stroke patients with self-reported decrease in hand function and with experienced difficulties in performing activities of daily living already completed the study. In the therapeutic study, participants are randomly assigned to three different groups: 1) the assistive group that use the ironHand system independent during the performance of activities of daily living at home or at work, 2) the therapeutic group that perform hand exercises with the ironHand system independently at home and 3) a control group that do not use the assistive or therapeutic ironHand system. The duration of the intervention period is for all groups 4 weeks. Before and after the intervention, all participants of all groups perform several hand function tests and fill in several questionnaires to assess the effect of the ironHand system.

Update ironHand project after 1½ years

The hand plays an important role in the performance of many activities of daily living, such as personal hygiene, eating/drinking, (un)dressing and occupational tasks. During ageing, people often experience a decline in hand function which might have an enormous impact on their quality of life. The ironHand project aims to develop a wearable soft-robotic glove that can support hand function of elderly and patients during their performance of activities of daily living. The elderly people and patients that will use the ironHand should be able to perform their everyday activities more independent and ultimately they may experience an increased quality of life.

After the identification of user requirements for such a robotic glove, based on a literature survey and user requirements from focus groups consisting of elderly, patients and therapists, the first prototype of the ironHand has been tested for user acceptance by thirty elderly across the Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland. The first reactions of users were very positive. Elderly who have tried the ironHand are enthusiastic about the ease of use and their enhanced independence during daily tasks. "It gives me extra strength, I can perform more activities with the glove," said one participant. However, there was still room for improvement and therefore the technical partners (Bioservo Technologies AB in Sweden and Hocoma AG in Switzerland) continued the development of the ironHand system. The fabric of the glove is adapted and usability and ease of use of the ironHand system are improved. The battery becomes more compact and the sensors in the glove become more sensitive.

In November 2015, the second prototype of the ironHand system was ready for user testing. The aim of these user trials is to involve 90 elderly across the Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland. During these tests, several hand function tests will be performed with and without the ironHand glove to evaluate the direct impact of wearing the glove. In addition to the assistive glove, applied games are developed in which hand movements (with the glove) can control the games. In this way, exercise training at home could become even more interesting. The effect on hand function of elderly and patients after using the glove and games for a longer period of time will be investigated in a next phase of the ironHand project.

Update ironHand project of year 1

The project officially started in May 2014 and runs for three years. A project press release in the second month resulted in wide coverage and attention for the ironHand project in the Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland, among them national news articles, national TV interview and broadcast, national TV’s newsroom, national and regional radio and shares in social media (look here for an overview). Until April 2015, production and release of 11 deliverables has been coordinated, and 4 project meetings have been held, including 2 Steering Group meetings.



ironHand consortium (at the kick-off meeting at Roessingh Research and Development (left) in May 2014 and at a project meeting at Bioservo (right) in November 2014)

During the first year, technical partners worked on the development of the ironHand system, which consists of an Assistive System (1 and 2 in Figure 1) and a Therapeutic System (3 and 4 in Figure 1). Other hardware modules can be connected with the Therapeutic System as well (5 in Figure 1).
Figure 1 ironHand system

The first version of the Assistive System hardware and firmware specification (released September 2014) contains 14 different modules and demonstrates the hand closing/opening and intention detection functionality, using Bioservo’s current SEM Glove with additional hand opening functionality using passive leaf springs. This resulted in achievement of the first milestone (system and module specifications ready), which was officially approved during the Steering Group meeting in Stockholm, November 2014.

In the meantime, the end-user organizations (National Foundation for the Elderly, Roessingh Research and Development, the Netherlands; Eskilstuna, Sweden; TerzStiftung, Switzerland) collected information from existing literature about user perspectives of assistive technology, to provide early input for functional requirements of the ironHand system. In addition, two rounds of focus groups with in total 25 elderly people and 18 therapists were organized by the end-user organizations to get more specific information of user perspectives of wearable robotic assistive devices for the upper limb. All data have been integrated into a report, describing the major findings of the user requirements identification. This information was used for software development and integration, in addition to a software development process according to international standards (IEC62304:2006 and IEC 60601-1:2005). A first integrated product with initial training software was released in September 2014. Development of the ironHand system is ongoing for the release of the second milestone (early prototype ready), which is planned for May 2015. The ironHand system will be iteratively tested with the involvement of elderly people in the three countries. Trial protocols for testing and evaluation of the ironHand system were prepared, starting with a feasibility study which is planned to start in June 2015.