Robotic Rehabilitation Gloves Win Microsoft’s 20th Annual Imagine Cup for Student Inventors

Microsoft’s Imagine Cup is something I look forward to every year. Students and young entrepreneurs submitting very early-stage projects to this global competition are the seeds of tomorrow’s startups and potentially world-changing projects. Winner of the Year, V BionicWe’ve created a robotic glove that will help patients with neurological impairment recover faster and at a much lower cost than other options.

The Saudi Arabian team is led by Zain Samdani, who is a student but has been researching and inventing in the field of robotics for many years. The rest of the crew are likewise at the beginning of an exciting career in the industry.

The ExoHeel glove is a mechanized exoskeleton designed to be worn by people with neurological impairments that cause problems with hand movement.

We’ve seen a few of these efforts in robotics labs and startups over the years. The general idea is to duplicate the physical therapist’s work by observing the patient’s movements and creating a series of exercises to help restore lost function. In the case of a limb injury, it is often the muscles and tendons that require rehabilitation, but if you have neurological damage, you also need to make sure your brain is sending the correct signals.

The team focused on making the gloves portable and affordable. Others like this are bulky and may rely on slow pneumatic or hydraulic mechanisms.

Image Credits: V Bionic

The white structure seen in the top image is a 3D printed exoskeleton, with a black cover and “backpack” housing the sensors, servos and other electronics.

“Flexor linkage-driven movements provide the flexibility to individually actuate different parts of each finger (phalanges) while keeping the device portable,” Samdani said in an email to TechCrunch. “We are currently developing production-ready prototypes that utilize a modular design to fit a variety of patient hand sizes.”

In early tests, the team found that, anecdotally, the gloves helped patients recover faster. However, there is a lot more work to be done on medical devices like this one. “We are conducting final clinical trials this year to better understand the scope of recovery for different users and to gain regulatory/medical device approvals,” said Samdani. They plan to target India first as a high-demand market with low regulatory barriers.

Cash from winning the Imagine Cup will help. Microsoft gives them $100,000 and $50,000 in Azure credits and a mentoring session with CEO Satya Nadella. Check out how cute these moments are to hear them say they won.

Team V Bionic celebrates victory in video call.

Image Credits: Microsoft

I love you.

But they were far from the only cool team running. Check out the last three here..

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