Although various hand assist devices have been commercialized for people with paralysis, they are somewhat limited in terms of tool fixation and device attachment method. Hand exoskeleton robots allow users to grasp a wider range of tools but are heavy, complicated, and bulky owing to the presence of numerous actuators and controllers. The GRIPIT hand assist device overcomes the limitations of both conventional devices and exoskeleton robots by providing improved tool fixation and device attachment in a lightweight and compact device. GRIPIT has been designed to assist tripod grasp for people with spinal cord injury because this grasp posture is frequently used in school and offices for such activities as writing and grasping small objects.
The main development objective of GRIPIT is to assist users to grasp tools with their own hand using a lightweight, compact assistive device that is manually operated via a single wire. GRIPIT consists of only a glove, a wire, and a small structure that maintains tendon tension to permit a stable grasp. The tendon routing points are designed to apply force to the thumb, index finger, and middle finger to form a tripod grasp. A tension-maintenance structure sustains the grasp posture with appropriate tension. Following device development, four people with spinal cord injury were recruited to verify the writing performance of GRIPIT compared to the performance of a conventional penholder and handwriting. Writing was chosen as the assessment task because it requires a tripod grasp, which is one of the main performance objectives of GRIPIT.
New assessment, which includes six different writing tasks, was devised to measure writing ability from various viewpoints including both qualitative and quantitative methods, while most conventional assessments include only qualitative methods or simple time measuring assessments. Appearance, portability, difficulty of wearing, difficulty of grasping the subject, writing sensation, fatigability, and legibility were measured to assess qualitative performance while writing various words and sentences. Results showed that GRIPIT is relatively complicated to wear and use compared to a conventional assist device but has advantages for writing sensation, fatigability, and legibility because it affords sufficient grasp force during writing. Two quantitative performance factors were assessed, accuracy of writing and solidity of writing. To assess accuracy of writing, we asked subjects to draw various figures under given conditions. To assess solidity of writing, pen tip force and the angle variation of the pen were measured. Quantitative evaluation results showed that GRIPIT helps users to write accurately without pen shakes even high force is applied on the pen.
Qualitative and quantitative results were better when subjects used GRIPIT than when they used the conventional penholder, mainly because GRIPIT allowed them to exert a higher grasp force. Grasp force is important because disabled people cannot control their fingers and thus need to move their entire arm to write, while non-disabled people only need to move their fingers to write. The tension-maintenance structure developed for GRIPIT provides appropriate grasp force and moment balance on the user’s hand, but the other writing method only fixes the pen using friction force or requires the user’s arm to generate a grasp force.
The hand is one of the most essential body parts for independent living because so many tasks of daily life, such as writing, eating, and grasping, require a functional hand. People who suffer from permanent paralysis of the hand owing to cerebral palsy, spinal cord injury (SCI), stroke, and other neurological disorders require assistive or rehabilitation devices in order to regain independence and return to work [1, 2].