12 April 2010

CUHK Invents Web Robotic Hand-in-Hand System



Online chat tools enable people in different countries or places to communicate directly on the Internet. Despite the high quality of computer images and sounds, and the countless interactive game programs available nowadays, online communication still lacks the aspect of physical touch that is essential in expressing feelings. In view of this limitation, Prof. Liu Yunhui of the Department of Mechanical and Automation Engineering of The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), and his research team have invented a web robotic hand-in-hand system. By imitating the movement of human hands at the other end of the Internet, the robotic hand allows users to experience a feeling like that of holding their friend’s hand via the web.

The system consists of a surface electromyography sensor, which has to be attached to the user’s forearm to detect the feeble electric signals generated during muscle contraction through the user’s skin. Fingers moving at different speeds and strengths generate different levels of electric energy. By analysing and transmitting the features of such electric signals, the robotic hand at the other end of the Internet can instantly imitate the original motion of the human hand and offer a haptic feeling.

Originally, Prof. Liu had designed the system for seniors and children, rather than young netizens. ‘Due to residential limitations and migration, many families cannot live with their aged parents. Although they can show their care through phone calls, physical touch is still a better way to express love. With the system, elders and their children and grandchildren can touch and hold hands via the Internet to show affection directly.’

The system can be further developed and applied to the remote monitoring of stroke patients, as well as to hand physiotherapy service. ‘Regular hand physiotherapy can help improve hand functions of stroke patients. However, frequent traveling to the hospital is a great obstacle to these patients. With the system, stroke patients can receive hand physiotherapy treatment at home. The surface electromyography sensor can also help physicians to monitor the progress of a patient’s recovery by constantly detecting their level of muscle contraction.’

Prof. Liu and his research team have started developing the system since September 2009. Patent application is underway in the US and on the mainland. Further enhancements to the system are being made to incorporate hand temperature detection to render the robotic hand more human-like. The production cost of the system is around US$50 per set. Prof. Liu expects the cost to be reduced to US$30 when mass production takes place.

The web robotic hand-in-hand system, together with 11 latest research projects of CUHK, will be exhibited at the coming International ICT Expo 2010 at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre from 13 to 16 April. Other exhibits include: traffic accelerator for mobile networks, high-quality motion photo deblurring, and multilingual meta-search engine over the web. Details of the exhibition are as follows:

Date: 13 – 16 April 2010 (Tuesday to Friday)
Time: 9:30 am – 6:30 pm (Closes at 5:00 pm on 16 April)
Venue: Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, 1 Harbour Road, Wanchai
CUHK Booth Number: 3FF03

Prof. Liu Yunhui
Prof. Liu Yunhui

Prof. Liu Yunhui and his invention,
web robotic hand
Prof. Liu Yunhui and his invention,
web robotic hand

By attaching the surface electromyography sensor to the user's forearm, the system can control the robotic hand at the other end of the Internet
By attaching the surface electromyography sensor to the user's forearm, the system can control the robotic hand at the other end of the Internet

Prof. Liu Yunhui explains the mechanism of the surface electromyography sensor
Prof. Liu Yunhui explains the mechanism of the surface electromyography sensor