Glove that boosts sense of touch could aid surgeons

A vibrating glove could improve touch sensitivity in people with peripheral nerve damage or those whose jobs require manual dexterity.

We have glasses to improve eyesight and hearing aids to boost hearing -- and now there's a special glove to enhance one's sense of touch.

Counterintuitively, the glove increases touch sensitivity through a small vibrator attached to the side of the fingertip. When it vibrates at a barely perceptible level, it creates a "white noise" that, rather than drowning out other signals received by the finger, actually makes them clearer.

While this technique has been demonstrated to improve sight, hearing, balance and touch, this is the first time that it has been used in a wearable tool.

“This device may one day be used to assist individuals whose jobs require high-precision manual dexterity or those with medical conditions that reduce their sense of touch,” says Jun Ueda, one of the researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology who developed the glove, in a press release.

In tests, people wearing the glove could:

  • sense when filaments were touching them at lighter weights than they could without the glove.
  • distinguish that two points close together were touching them, whereas without the glove, the two points felt like one.
  • better recognize differences in the fineness of several types of sandpaper.
  • hold objects using less force than they normally would without letting them slip.

To increase touch sensitivity, the glove uses the concept of stochastic resonance. Adding white noise to the sensing area boosts all signals traveling there in the same way a rising tide lifts a boat.

The researchers are now determining what levels of vibration are optimal, exploring the effects of long-term exposure to vibration and testing the effect of vibrators attached to both sides of the fingertip.

“The future of this research may lead to the development of a novel orthopedic device that can help people with peripheral nerve damage resume their daily activities or improve the abilities of individuals with jobs that require skills in manipulation or texture discrimination,” says Ueda.

via: CNET, Georgia Tech

photo: Gary Meek/Georgia Tech

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