Touch-Sensing Glove That Maps Tactile Stimuli

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Researchers engineered a touch-sensing glove that can precisely map pressure points of tactile ability.

Whenever we hold an object, we apply pressure and the pressure points may change if we hold things of different shapes. Researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology have engineered a way to precisely map pressure points of tactile ability. 

The researchers have designed a touch-sensing glove that can feel pressure and other tactile stimuli. It consists of numerous sensors that detects, measures, and maps small changes in pressure across the glove. The individual sensors are highly sensitive. They can even pick up human pulses. The researcher appeared in the Nature Communications journal.

According to the researchers, the glove could help to retrain motor function and coordination in people who have suffered a stroke or other fine motor condition. It can also be adapted to augment virtual reality and gaming experiences.

“The simplicity and reliability of our sensing structure holds great promise for a diversity of health care applications, such as pulse detection and recovering the sensory capability in patients with tactile dysfunction,” says Nicholas Fang, professor of mechanical engineering at MIT.

The sensors are similar to humidity sensors in HVAC systems, implemented as small capacitors, with two electrodes, or metal plates, sandwiching a rubbery “dielectric” material that shuttles electric charges between the two electrodes. In humid conditions, the dielectric layer absorbs moisture, and changes the capacitance. 

The researchers modified this capacitive sensor for the glove. When the sensor feels pressure, the balance of charges shifts which can quantify the pressure applied. They used a conventional dielectric layer and sweat as it naturally contains ions such as sodium and chloride. If pressure was applied to a sensing electrode, ions from the skin’s natural moisture would accumulate on the underside, and change the capacitance between both electrodes, by an amount that they could measure.

To boost the sensitivity, they covered its inner side by tiny, bendy, conductive hairs. Each of them would serve as a microscopic extension of the main electrode. 

The team plans to integrate the pressure sensors not only into tactile gloves but also into flexible adhesives to track pulse, blood pressure, and other vital signs more accurately than smart watches and other wearable monitors.

“Some fine motor skills require not only knowing how to handle objects, but also how much force should be exerted,” Fang says. “This glove could provide us more accurate measurements of gripping force for control groups versus patients recovering from stroke or other neurological conditions. This could increase our understanding, and enable control.”


 

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