University of Sydney sensor bracelet image
Credit: University of Sydney

Researchers at the University of Sydney are developing low-cost, cutting-edge assistive technology bracelet to allow people with hand impairment to easily use computers and play video games.

The customisable, wearable and 3D-printed bracelet could enable people with reduced hand movement, such as those with conditions like motor neurone disease and cerebral palsy, to play video games that require a handheld controller.

Made with a type of resin, the bracelet works by picking up tiny movements in the user’s wrist when they move their fingers. These movements are sent wirelessly to a computer, and are then interpreted, classified and adapted using machine learning. The interpreted information can then be used to play a game, control a computer interface, or communicate using a smart device.

The bracelet and programme have been developed by a team of engineers in the University of Sydney’s School of Computer Science, led by undergraduate honours student Stephen Lin under the supervision of Dr Anusha Withana.

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Dr Withana commented: “We have 3D printed a sensor bracelet that can be easily customised for individual users. It accurately detects subtle finger movements through vibrations in the carpal tunnel – an area of the wrist that contains the tendons which control the hand.

“These subtle movements are then transmitted from the sensors to a program using Bluetooth, which interprets an individual’s movement patterns using machine learning. It then communicates this with the game. It does so almost instantaneously, allowing the user to play games that would otherwise require the use of a handheld controller.”

The sensors were designed using computational fabrication techniques, with the components able to be printed using a low-cost, commercial 3D printer. The team has also developed a simple, easy-to-use tool that allows users to customise the sensor to fit their needs.

Stephen added: “Accessibility shouldn’t come at a huge cost. Our mission is to provide an affordable, easy-to-use solution to assist people around the world who are living with disability. We want this technology to be available to anyone who needs it, which is why we plan to release it publicly without IP.”

The researchers plan to release the tools to create sensor bracelets as open-source software, with the aim of improving accessibility for people living with disability worldwide.

One day, the researchers hope to progress the transmitted movement signals to a free phone app that is easy to download, as opposed to the current computer-based programme that is being used now.

Learn more about the 3D sensor bracelet in the short video below:

Other universities have also been exploring wearable assistive technologies to offer a low-cost solution to people who people have reduced mobility or motor control.

Researchers from the Department of Physics at the Indian Institute of Science have recently developed a soft, wearable 3D printed glove with remote control capabilities to help stroke patients with their rehabilitation programmes, and allow clinicians to operate the glove remotely.

The goal is to enable patients to participate in rehabilitation programmes in the comfort of their own homes rather than the traditional method of going to a clinic.

World-renowned US technology university Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have similarly created a robotic glove using an autonomous knitting tool to help people with limited dexterity more easily grip objects.

This pioneering assistive glove can be worn by a human to supplement finger muscle movement, minimising the amount of muscle activity needed to complete tasks and motions. This could hold a lot of potential for those with injury, limited mobility, or other trauma to the fingers.

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