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One in three people will likely need some form of hand rehabilitation throughout their lives. Loss of function in the hand arises from many causes, including injury, strokes and surgery. Therapy is crucial for restoring grip strength, improving dexterity, reducing pain, and preventing stiffness. However, traditional hand therapy methods rely on patients regularly visiting a therapist who uses manual techniques. Apart from being time-consuming and inconvenient for patients, this approach can result in variable delivery of therapeutic manipulation and assessment of improvement.

The Exoflex system delivers controlled therapeutic movement to each finger joint in a patient’s hand. The system controls and measures the speed, force and range of movement. Health practitioners use a simple web interface to create tailored therapy routines for a patient and these routines are transferred to the device’s electronics control unit via Wi-Fi or a connected smartphone. The patient can then self-administer controlled therapy between visits to their practitioner. Data collected from Exoflex enables monitoring of a patient’s recovery and further customisation of therapy routines.

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The Exoflex system consists of five components:

  • An exoskeleton arm worn by the patient

  • An electronic control unit 

  • Up to five drive modules (one per finger)

  • Finger nodes that attach the drive module to the patient’s hand

  • A web interface for control and data collection

 

Genesys Electronics Design developed the circuit boards, firmware and software for the Exoflex drive unit, and assisted with regulatory compliance, validation and testing. Industrial design was delivered by Design and Industry.​

The main challenge of the project was delivering precise control to each individual finger joint. The original concept called for just two motors, but the final design required 14 motors, all synchronised in their movements, to deliver the therapeutic control required. Genesys addressed this challenge by developing a synchronisation routine that pre-loaded routine data before the movement started to ensure that every joint was ready to go at the right time.

 

Another challenge was accurately measuring the force applied to each joint while the patient performed their rehabilitation routine. Genesys partnered with Spatial Freedom to develop a measurement approach using infrared beams. The beam was passed through a mask at the back of the motor and the amount of light getting through this mask was measured using a sensor.  By designing a mechanism that coupled the obstruction of light by the mask to the tension and compression applied to the axis, a novel method was created for sensing force.

The brainchild of Exoflex was Peter Abolfathi. He said: “Genesys was a vital partner in this project. Not only did they find innovative solutions to the most difficult technical challenges, but also fully supported the project in a number of other ways including compliance, testing and technology validation.”

The technology has won three major awards, including the British Council Eureka Prize for Inspiring Science, the National Disability Awards for Excellence in Technology, and the British Council Eureka Prize for Inspiring Science. 

Contact us to find out more about this project.

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