There are a number of conditions that can make it difficult for people to grasp objects, including neurological diseases, nerve damage, muscle atrophy, and simple aging. Most treatments focus on addressing the underlying cause, but in many cases that isn’t actually possible. The next-best solution is to provide a way for sufferers to maintain their quality of life by improving their ability to grasp common objects. Bubble is a wearable assistive grasping augmentation that’s designed to do that with soft inflatables.
When people have trouble grasping objects, it’s usually because they’re unable to close their hand completely or aren’t able to do so with a sufficient amount of strength. But they can often contract their fingers at least a little bit, or at least their forearm muscles that connect to the hand through tendons. Bubble is a wearable device that augments that by sensing when the wearer is attempting to grasp something, and filling inflatable silicone bladders to form around the object. The bladders are interchangeable and fit over the wearer’s fingers, which makes the system versatile enough to work with a range of people and objects.
In order for Bubble to sense that the user is trying to grasp something, a Myo Armband is used as an EMG (Electromyography) sensor that can detect contractions in the forearm muscles. The sensor data is then sent to a simple neural network, which identifies what kind of movement the user is trying to perform. Then, an Adafruit Feather nRF52 microcontroller is sent signals via BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy), and responds by controlling a pump and valve to inflate the bladders. The Bubble prototype runs the neural network on a separate computer for now, but that could eventually be integrated into the wearable itself for an all-in-one solution.