Wearable Assistive Grasping System Based on Soft Inflatables

Bubble is a pneumatically actuated wearable system that enables people with hand disabilities to use their own hands to grasp objects without fully bending their fingers. Bubble offers a novel approach to grasping, where slim, ultra-lightweight silicone actuators are attached to the fingers. When the user wishes to grasp an object, the silicone units inflate pneumatically to fill the available space around the object. The inflatable units are interchangeable, can be independently inflated, and can be positioned anywhere on the fingers and in any orientation, thereby enabling a wide variety of grasping gestures.

Bubble is a fundamentally different approach to grasping. Rather than bending the user’s fingers around the object, it uses ultra-slim inflatable silicone chambers that expand dynamically to fill the space around the object. This enables grasping of objects of various sizes, without fully bending users’ fingers, and allows for a variety of grasping gestures based on how the inflatable units are positioned and orientated.

EMG signals are collected and sent to a computer for analysis, and the result is then used to control the electronics and pneumatics driving the inflatable units.

To use Bubble:

  1. Attach EMG sensor to forearm and control unit in the wrist;

  2. Attach inflation units to hand in a desired configuration.

  3. Approach an object with hand.

  4. Chambers begin inflating.

  5. Inflation continues for as long as the forearm muscles are contracted;

  1. Once the object is properly held, relax the forearm to stop the inflation.

  2. To release the object, perform a strong flexion with the wrist to deflate all units.


Xinlei Zhang*, Ali Shtarbanov*, Jiani Zeng, Valerie K. Chen, V. Michael Bove, Pattie Maes, and Jun Rekimoto. 2019. Bubble: Wearable Assistive Grasping Augmentation Based on Soft Inflatables. In Extended Abstracts of the 2019 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI EA '19). Association for Computing Machinery, New York, NY, USA, Paper LBW2313, 1–6. DOI:https://doi.org/10.1145/3290607.3312868

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My Contributions:

  • System Architecture Design

  • System Implementation

  • PCB and Electronics design

  • Firmware Development

  • Soft actuator fabrication

  • User study design

  • Paper writing


  • Xinlei Zhang

  • Jiani Zeng

  • Valerie Chen


  • Dr. Pattie Maes

  • Dr. Michael Bove

  • Dr. Jun Rekimotor