Touch-Sensitive Glove Developed at Armstrong for Upper Body Plyometric Studies

A new touch-sensitive glove, developed on campus at Armstrong, offers exciting new ways to study, measure and quantify upper body plyometrics. Plyometrics exercises are physical activities in which muscles are extended and contracted in a rapid and repetitive manner.

Dr. Bryan Riemann, professor of health sciences, approached Dr. Wayne Johnson, associate professor of engineering studies, in the spring of 2013 to collaborate on a special project. The idea was to design and develop a glove that would enable data collection of the contact times and/or forces created when performing upper extremity plyometric exercises, like throwing and catching a small medicine ball.

“I've wanted to quantify the demands of upper body plyometric exercise for several years,” says Dr. Riemann. “Despite the popularity of plyo exercise, to date there has been relatively little study of upper body plyometrics.”

Working closely with several Armstrong engineering students and his departmental colleague, Dr. Thomas Murphy over the summer, Dr. Johnson developed a prototype of the glove that would meet Dr. Riemann's research needs.

“We started brainstorming ideas for designing a low-cost device to track contact by measuring electrical signals in the device,” Dr. Johnson explains. “The students really took this project on and came up with various design modifications.”

For Armstrong students like Derrick Brown, a junior majoring in aerospace engineering, the opportunity to get hands-on experience designing a high-tech glove has been invaluable.

“I've enjoyed the opportunity to further my education beyond the classroom,” he says. “It's hard work, but the process has been very rewarding.”

The current prototype glove incorporates sensors made from copper-based fabric and Velostat, both of which conduct electrical currents. The sensors include a layer of non-conductive neoprene between the copper fabric and Velostat to create an electrical switch that activates when pressure is applied.

“When the ball is caught, it activates the sensors in the glove producing a measureable spike in voltage. We can track the time of the spike to determine when contact is made with the glove ” Dr. Johnson explains. “This collaborative project is a true example of how research can enrich student learning in the classroom.”

The glove is currently being used to collect catch and release time data for several graduate sports medicine student projects related to plyometrics and medicine ball exercise. Formal analysis of data will begin in the spring of 2014. The results of this interdisciplinary partnership across departments will be announced at conferences and published in academic journals in the future.

“The best part of this project is being able to combine the expertise of different disciplines to achieve a common goal that would otherwise not be achievable,” enthuses Dr. Riemann. “In doing so, we are able to provide engineering students with real world applications of their coursework and allow sports medicine graduate students to study aspects of exercise that would not otherwise be possible.”