North­eastern Uni­ver­sity student-​​researchers have cre­ated a post-​​stroke reha­bil­i­ta­tion glove designed to increase hand strength through finger exten­sion and improve cog­ni­tive ability to com­plete everyday tasks such as picking up a glass, turning a door­knob or unscrewing a soda bottle.

The inno­v­a­tive device, dubbed “Excel­sior,” was designed for a senior cap­stone project under the direc­tion of Con­stan­tinos Mavroidis, Dis­tin­guished Pro­fessor of Engi­neering, and Richard Ranky, a mechan­ical engi­neering doc­toral can­di­date. The under­grad­uate team mem­bers included Aaron Bickel, Abhishek Singhal, Craig Pacella and Nisha Parekh, whose work was sup­ported by a three-​​year, $270,000 grant from the National Sci­ence Foundation.

According to the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion, some 800,000 stroke cases occur in the United States each year. Ranky said sur­vivors require phys­ical therapy and ongoing exer­cise to regain mobility and dex­terity. As he put it, “A major goal for patients post-​​stroke is regaining their fine motor control.”

Excel­sior – which was devel­oped using 3-​​D addi­tive man­u­fac­turing with embedded sen­sors and can be cus­tomized to fit a patient’s hand – was designed with that goal in mind.

To improve cog­ni­tive func­tion, users match col­ored LEDs (light-​​emitting diodes) on the device’s fin­ger­tips with those on external objects fash­ioned into house­hold shapes, such as cups or doorknobs.

In prepa­ra­tion for designing the pro­to­type, stu­dents inter­viewed phys­ical ther­a­pists at Spaulding Reha­bil­i­ta­tion Hos­pital in Boston who shed light on patient needs.

Pacella, a senior mechan­ical engi­neering major, praised his group’s final design. “No other device assists with opening the hand and has cog­ni­tive exer­cises like this,” he said. “Most com­mer­cial hand motion rehab devices don’t use sen­sors to mea­sure range of motion and con­trol of the fingers.”

Mavroidis, who has filed a pro­vi­sional patent on the glove, plans to license and com­mer­cialize the rehab device, which would cost patients approx­i­mately $200. But there’s work to be done. “It still needs to become more user-​​friendly, stronger and thinner,” Mavroidis explained.

Pacella said pro­gram­ming and devel­oping cir­cuit boards for the pro­to­type forced him out­side of his com­fort zone, which, he said, would serve him well in his first pro­fes­sional job.

There’s no such thing as a job in only mechan­ical engi­neering,” Pacella said. “In the real world, you need to under­stand other dis­ci­plines, which you can only learn through experience.”

Ranky agreed, high­lighting the value of expe­ri­en­tial learning. “Working on a cap­stone project is dif­ferent from solving a problem in class where there is only one solu­tion,” he said. “Cap­stone is as close as you can get to the real world.”