Whether they’re astronauts or assembly-line workers, a wide range of folks are routinely in danger from repetitive-stress injuries associated with constantly gripping and releasing their tools. But that could soon be changing, both in outer space and at GM facilities a bit closer to earth: General Motors and NASA recently introduced the Human Grasp Assist device—aka, the Robo-Glove—to cut down on muscle fatigue among astronauts serving on the International Space Station.
This innovative new technology is the fruit of a decades-long collaboration between GM and NASA, and grew out of the partners’ work on Robonaut 2—the “human-like” robot currently helping astronauts on the International Space Station. The Robo-Glove leverages fingertip pressure sensors to provide a sense of touch to the operator, as well as built-in actuators that can contract the glove’s fingers to grasp different objects.
“The prototype glove offers my space suit team a promising opportunity to explore new ideas, and challenges our traditional thinking of what extravehicular activity hand dexterity could be,” said Trish Petete, division chief, Crew and Thermal Systems Division, NASA Johnson Space Center.
The creation of Robonaut 2 led to 46 patent applications from GM and NASA, including 21 for the robot’s hand and four specifically for the Robo-Glove. More importantly, it’s also leading to continued enhancements. While the current Robo-Glove weighs a mere two pounds, the next-generation prototype, set to be unveiled shortly, will be even lighter and more compact.
And a similar technology is being developed for use in GM facilities around the globe.
“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,” added Dana Komin, GM’s manufacturing engineering director, Global Automation Strategy and Execution. “In so doing, it is expected to reduce the risk of repetitive stress injury. … Our goal is to bring this technology to the shop floor in the near future.”