Grant leads to new research for glove design

Written by Alison Parkins on Thu, 06/18/2020 - 14:02 |
Dr. Vettrivel Gnaneswaran

Dr. Vettrivel Gnaneswaran, assistant professor of industrial engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, was recently awarded a Research Infrastructure Program grant by the Wisconsin Space Grant Consortium for his research exploring the use of gloves and their effect on performing tasks – the results of which could potentially influence glove redesign in manufacturing, aerospace and healthcare industries, helping people select gloves to maximize safety and productivity.

Gnaneswaran’s research project, Quantification of Perceived and Exerted Forces in Precision Grasps with Gloves, centers around the idea that any time someone completes a task with their hands, they will exert submaximally to complete that task, meaning they will use just enough force to complete it. However, past studies show that when gloves are used as protective equipment, people overexert in order to compensate for the lack of tactility that they perceive to have with the glove on. This can lead to quicker muscle fatigue or even musculoskeletal disorders such as carpal tunnel syndrome or tendonitis.

Past research on this topic has focused largely on prehensile hand movements – movements that typically involve grasping objects and holding them. Gnaneswaran hopes his study fills what he has found to be a gap in the research, as he focuses on non-prehensile hand movements, such as pushing, poking and typing. His research aims to develop a methodology to capture the force developed along the palmar surface of the fingers, with and without gloves, as well as determine the relationship between perceived exertions and actual exertions for a set of simulated tasks that require precision grasps with gloves.

This new research project builds on Gnaneswaran’s long history of research in the area of ergonomics, particularly in human hand performance and glove effect. He has published three papers in ergonomic journals and authored book chapters and conference articles on gloves.

“Working as an engineering design intern in a tractor manufacturing plant, I was shocked to see the awkward postures adopted by the shop floor employees to lift transmission casings,” said Gnaneswaran. “My ensuing discussion with the engineering manager motivated me to pursue my graduate education with a focus on ergonomics. When deciding on a research area within ergonomics, I was drawn towards the human hand as it is one of the most commonly utilized body part that is exploited.”

The idea for this most recent research project came from his own observations in the field.

“I have personally observed operators tend to remove their gloves to actuate the control buttons of machinery as they hindered tactile feedback and performance,” said Gnaneswaran. “This lack of understanding on how humans perform with gloves using finger manipulation is what motivated me to start this new research.”

Because the research is being designed as a series of classroom activities, a number of students will have the opportunity to be involved. Gnaneswaran will have an undergraduate student assist with the logistics of designing the activities, data collection and publishing. Up to 20 other students involved in the activities will gain experience with sensor technologies, data collection, data analysis and documentation.

Experiences such as this, Gnaneswaran said, allow students to gain professional skills that will help them excel when they enter the workforce.

“Students should be involved in such opportunities to gain and/or hone vital skills like critical thinking, problem-solving and communication that are deemed necessary by employers,” he said.

Gnaneswaran plans to present his research findings at next year’s Wisconsin Space Conference, as well as the Applied Ergonomics Conference.

This material is based upon work supported by NASA under Award No. RIP20_6.0 issued through Wisconsin Space Grant Consortium, and any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.