Releaf is a glove designed by three Integrated Product Design students. Even though it is still a work in progress, we have made great progress in the development of the technology and engineering behind the glove. The glove stemmed from extensive research in the field of elderly gardening with the goal of reinforcing their grip strength and allowing them to garden for longer.
We went to different community gardens, and interviewed community garden managers, elderly gardeners, and caretakers. Through our research, we found that the elderly enjoyed being outside and that a large population of gardeners in community gardens were people that were in the older population and retired. Thus, we decided to focus on this target market.
From our interviews, we identified the profiles of they users we wished to target.
Initially, we wanted to create a tool that would enable gardeners to garden for longer and gain more enjoyment out of gardening. So we brainstormed ideas that could help gardeners transport items, connect with each other, kill weeds, or build gardening apparatuses themselves.
However, after doing more research, we found that many of the elderly gardeners enjoyed using plain tools that don’t have a steep learning curve; gardening as a time for themselves and for piece and quiet; being outside and the physical labor that results from gardening.
In addition, after doing some market research, it looked like the market for assistive tools and elderly-specific gardening tools was highly saturated. This posed the problem for use: how can we allow elderly gardeners to garden for longer outside, use the tools they love, while not providing too much assistance?
We began doing more research on how these gardeners actually gardened, and found that one of the most important tools they use is their hands. Thus, our team decided to do some empathy research and created what we called Empathy Gloves that would simulate what it feel like to have lowered grip strength and arthritis in the joints. We created these by using semi-rigid double-layered polystyrene strips and layering them over out fingers. We also added duct tape to the bottom of our gloves to reduce the amount the grippyness of the glove.
With these gloves, we wore them while doing daily tasks and we took part in a 3-hour long gardening session at a local community garden to simulate the strain on the hands.
Using the empathy research, we were able to find the key stress points in the hand while wearing gloves.
With this new breadth of information and experience, it gave us a new baseboard to jump off of and we began ideating in the realm of reinforcing grip strength and aiding grip. We then began creating ideas in mechanisms that could help us achieve our goal.
Through many more sketches and brainstorms, we boiled down our idea to a glove that reinforces grip strength using cables and a motor. In addition, we wanted to use different materials to aid in the grippyness of the gloves and allow for a durable and breathable gardening glove. Our initial sketches helped us nail down different placements and aesthetic of the glove. We also started thinking of ways of actuating the glove passively, but found that it would entail the use of other body parts or movements that might be uncomfortable for gardeners.
Our key target user ended up being Joe, due to his abilities in gardening, and since he needs to garden every single day – from being a community garden manager.
We created several prototypes of potential mechanisms we could use and were able to test out a works-like prototype on Joe.
The mechanism of the glove will use wires that are woven along the underside of each finger, and be actuated by a single motor. The glove will use a flex sensor in the pinky – the least used finger for grip.
In addition, we plan to use silicone coatings on the fingers and palm for extra strength, neoprene on the pressure points, rubber coverings for the electronics, and pigskin leather for the glove.
We have begun refining our model and editing the aesthetic of the glove through different uses of materials and placement of parts.
We have created a new prototype that is custom sewn, and 3D printed