Millions of people are affected by weaknesses in their hands due to age or chronic illnesses like Multiple Sclerosis or carpal tunnel syndrome.
Now a robotic glove is being designed which could change sufferers’ lives forever and give people greater independence.
The glove based on AI technology has been given business support from Edinburgh’s Business School Incubator, based at Heriot-Watt University.
It will use Electromyography to measure electrical activity in response to a nerve’s stimulation of the muscle. If the glove detects the hand wants to grip, it uses an algorithm to convert the intention into force. This in turn helps user to hold an item.
The technology means everyday tasks such as opening jars, gripping the steering wheel or pouring a cup of tea will cease to be a problem for many people who suffer from muscle loss in their hands.
The lightweight glove is the first product from BioLiberty, a Scottish start-up founded by four recent engineering graduates. The glove was inspired by one of the co-founders’ personal experience of debilitating illness.
Ross O’Hanlon, 24, saw how Multiple Sclerosis was affecting his aunt and simple tasks like changing the TV channel became a challenge.
“Being an engineer, I decided to use technology to tackle these challenges head on with the aim of helping people like my aunt to retain their autonomy.
“As well as those affected by illness, the population continues to age and this places increasing pressure on care services. We wanted to support independent living and healthy ageing by enabling individuals to live more comfortably in their own homes for longer.
“While there are many gadgets on the market that address a specific grip challenge such as tools to help open jars, I wanted an all-encompassing solution to support a range of daily tasks. We founded BioLiberty while studying and we’ve already achieved a working prototype but, with a background in engineering, converting a good idea into a successful business can be overwhelming.
“Up to now, we’ve funded the company from business competition awards so being accepted into the Edinburgh Business School Incubator programme is a huge boost. We’re confident that support of this type will help accelerate the glove into homes more quickly.
Kallum Russell is the Business Incubator Manager at the Edinburgh Business School. He said: “Heriot-Watt University is renowned for its robotics and AI expertise with a strong focus on the development of assisted living technology within the National Robotarium. “
Once companies leave the Incubator, the University’s Global Research Innovation and Discovery facility helps business growth through accelerated scale-up and development processes.