General Motors has joined forces with NASA to develop a robotic glove intended to reduce repetitive stress injuries in both astronauts and auto workers. Dubbed the Human Grasp Assist Device, or Robo-Glove, the current prototype weighs around two pounds and utilizes an array of sensors, actuators, and simulated tendons to reduce the amount of force necessary to use a tool.
The Robo-Glove is a result of GM and NASA’s Robonaut 2 (R2) project, the first human-like robot to be sent into space. Currently a permanent resident of the International Space Station, R2 was designed to operate tools originally intended for humans. GM says the development team behind R2 achieved an unprecedented level of hand dexterity by using advanced sensors and actuators to mimic the nerves, muscles, and tendons in the human hand.
The R2’s finger actuation system inspired the mechanics of the Robo-Glove, which uses actuators embedded into the upper portion of the glove to provide grasping support to a user’s fingers. Pressure sensors are incorporated into the glove’s finger tips, and help it detect when the user is grasping a tool. Once the glove senses the user gripping something, synthetic tendons automatically retract and pull the fingers until the sensor is released.
In space, astronauts working in a pressurized suit might need to exert 15-20 pounds of force to hold and operate a particular tool. Using the Robo-Glove, however, only 5-10 pounds of force might be needed. GM says this principle can also be applied in a factory on Earth, where research shows that continuously gripping a tool can cause hand muscle fatigue within a few minutes. Initial testing of the Robo-Glove shows a wearer can hold a grip longer and more comfortably, according to GM.
“When fully developed, the Robo-Glove has the potential to reduce the amount of force that an auto worker would need to exert when operating a tool for an extended time or with repetitive motions,” said Dana Komin, GM’s manufacturing engineering director, in a release. “In so doing, it is expected to reduce the risk of repetitive stress injury.”
GM’s current prototype weighs in at roughly two pounds, including control electronics and a small display for programming and diagnostics. The Robo-Glove is powered by an off-the-shelf lithium-ion battery typically used for power tools, which is worn on a belt by the user. GM and NASA are working on a third-generation prototype, which will repackage components to reduce size and weight of the system. GM says that prototype is nearing completion.
“We are continuously looking for ways to improve safety and productivity on the shop floor,” Komin said in a release. “Our goal is to bring this technology to the shop floor in the near future.”