Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have developed a glove with a special fingertip designed to improve the wearer's sense of touch.
Previous research has shown that adding a little white noise - a concept called stochastic resonance - can improve sight, hearing, balance control and touch, but the idea's never before been incorporated into a wearable device.
"This device may one day be used to assist individuals whose jobs require high-precision manual dexterity or those with medical conditions that reduce their sense of touch," says Jun Ueda, an assistant professor at Georgia Tech.
The device uses an actuator made of a stack of lead zirconate titanate layers to generate high-frequency vibration. The ceramic layers are piezoelectric, generating an electrical charge when a mechanical force is applied to them.
The actuator is attached to the side of the fingertip, so that the person wearing the glove can continue to manipulate objects.
And the results showed that the volunteers performed statistically better on texture discrimination, two-point discrimination, single-point touch and grasp tests when mechanical vibration was applied.
"All of the experimental results showed that some mechanical vibration was better than none at all, but the level of vibration that statistically improved sensorimotor functions varied by test," noted Ueda.
Because the levels of vibration that seemed to work varied, the researchers are now working to determine the perfect amplitude and frequency vibration and find out the long-term effects.
They are also working on optimizing the design of the glove and testing the effect of attaching actuators to both sides of the fingertip or the fingernail.
"The future of this research may lead to the development of a novel orthopedic device that can help people with peripheral nerve damage resume their daily activities or improve the abilities of individuals with jobs that require skills in manipulation or texture discrimination," says Ueda.