Simple 3-axis accelerometers will give you an estimate of pitch. However, this will be very noisy, especially when the hand is moving from one pose to another. This is because the direction of acceleration is directly used to estimate the direction of gravity. Thus, this option would only be useful if the hand is not moving.
Gyroscopes allow the direction of gravity to be stabilized. This allows the data to remain useful during movement. Drift/bias is not a problem, so long as you correct for this. This can be done by using a Kalman filter, with a model of gyroscopic drift. The drift is corrected by comparing the derivative of the long term estimate of the direction of gravity compared to the gyroscopic data. Some IMUs correct for drift automatically, for example, the VN-100 from VectorNav.
Magnetometers provides a global estimate of the remaining angular direction (yaw). This simply adds further useful data.
If you only place the IMUs on the fingertips, the data is insufficient to estimate pose. Remember that IMUs only measure attitude (also known as orientation) in space. Can you imagine cases where the fingertip may remain in the same orientation, yet the hand pose is different?
Observe that the index fingertip orientation does not change, however, the position (pose) has changed.
Therefore, you can see that IMU data on the fingertips is not enough to estimate pose. However, additional data can improve the estimate of hand pose, if you fuse the IMU data with your existing data using a Kalman filter.
It is theoretically possible for IMU data alone to be sufficient to estimate pose. However, this would require an IMU for each and every independently movable part of the hand. Since I cannot independently move the top two segments of each finger, we would only need 2 IMUs per finger (one on the fingertip, and one on the segment just after the knuckle, ie. segments 1 and 3 on the finger), plus 2 for the hand, and another for the end of the arm (to get the wrist motion). Therefore, you need a total of 13 IMUs to get all the data required.
I do not know that much about the price of tiny IMUs, however, I would guess that it is not that cheap to get that many IMUs (I don't know your budget). Normally, a single IMU is used for a rigid body. IMUs vary in price (a list at http://damien.douxchamps.net/research/imu/), but say, the VN-100 IMU might be able to give you 0.1 degree accuracy in optimal conditions. If you get a cheaper IMU, the accuracy may not be as good and/or they may lack an integrated Kalman Filter. Getting 13 VN-100 IMUs, costing thousands would probably break the bank (although the VN-100 at 20x20x2mm may not be appropriate if you want an IMU with a smaller form factor).
My suggestion is to consider other data sources which may be obtained more cheaply. For example:
- camera-based systems, after image processing, you can get data about the position of different parts of the hand. Image processing can be aided by using some sort of reflective markers.
- sensors embedded in the fabric of the glove
- strain gauges
- SMA wire