Daniele Esposito, Jessica Centracchio, Emilio Andreozzi, Sergio Savino, Gaetano D Gargiulo, Ganesh R. Naik, Paolo Bifulco
Machines, Volume 10, Issue 1, Pages 57, Publisher MDPI, Journal Ranking Q2, Impact Factor 2.6
Publication year: 2022

Abstract

Voluntary hand movements are usually impaired after a cerebral stroke, affecting millions of people per year worldwide. Recently, the use of hand exoskeletons for assistance and motor rehabilitation has become increasingly widespread. This study presents a novel hand exoskeleton, designed to be low cost, wearable, easily adaptable and suitable for home use. Most of the components of the exoskeleton are 3D printed, allowing for easy replication, customization and maintenance at a low cost. A strongly underactuated mechanical system allows one to synergically move the four fingers by means of a single actuator through a rigid transmission, while the thumb is kept in an adduction or abduction position. The exoskeleton’s ability to extend a typical hypertonic paretic hand of stroke patients was firstly tested using the SimScape Multibody simulation environment; this helped in the choice of a proper electric actuator. Force-myography was used instead of the standard electromyography to voluntarily control the exoskeleton with more simplicity. The user can activate the flexion/extension of the exoskeleton by a weak contraction of two antagonist muscles. A symmetrical master–slave motion strategy (i.e., the paretic hand motion is activated by the healthy hand) is also available for patients with severe muscle atrophy. An inexpensive microcontroller board was used to implement the electronic control of the exoskeleton and provide feedback to the user. The entire exoskeleton including batteries can be worn on the patient’s arm. The ability to provide a fluid and safe grip, like that of a healthy hand, was verified through kinematic analyses obtained by processing high-framerate videos. The trajectories described by the phalanges of the natural and the exoskeleton finger were compared by means of cross-correlation coefficients; a similarity of about 80% was found. The time required for both closing and opening of the hand exoskeleton was about 0.9 s. A rigid cylindric handlebar containing a load cell measured an average power grasp force of 94.61 N, enough to assist the user in performing most of the activities of daily living. The exoskeleton can be used as an aid and to promote motor function recovery during patient’s neurorehabilitation therapy.