Structural modelling of the EVA glove indicates that flexibility in the metacarpophalangeal (MCP) joint can be improved by selectively lowering the elasticity of the glove fabric. Two strategies are used to accomplish this. One method uses coil springs on the back of the glove to carry the tension in the glove skin due to pressurization. These springs carry the loads normally borne by the glove fabric, but are more easily deformed. An active system was also designed for the same purpose and uses gas filled bladders attached to the back of the EVA glove that change the dimensions of the back of the glove and allow the glove to bend at the MCP joint, thus providing greater flexibility at this joint. A threshold control scheme was devised to control the action of the joint actuators. Input to the controller was provided by thin resistive pressure sensors placed between the hand and the pressurized glove.
The pressure sensors consist of a layer of polyester film that has a thin layer of ink screened on the surface. The resistivity of the ink is pressure dependent, so an extremely thin pressure sensor can be fabricated by covering the ink patch with another layer of polyester film and measuring the changing resistance of the ink with a bridge circuit. In order to sense the force between the hand and the glove at the MCP joint a sensor was placed on the palmar face of the middle finger. The resultant signal was used by the controller to decide whether to fill or exhaust the bladder actuators on the back of the glove. The information from the sensor can also be used to evaluate the effectiveness of a given control scheme or glove design since the magnitude of the measured pressures gives some idea of the torque required to bend a glove finger at the MCP joint.
Tests of this actuator, sensor, and control system were conducted in an 57.2 kPa glove box by performing a series of 90 degree finger bends with a glove without an MCP joint assembly, a glove with the coil spring assembly, and with the four fingered actuated glove. The tests of these three glove designs confirm the validity of the model.