General Motors and NASA began a collaboration back in 2007 that resulted in a robot called Robonaut, or R2, being sent to the International Space Station on one of the Space Shuttle’s final mission. As such it was the first robot in space. Now, GM and NASA are jointly announcing the development of a glove that was originally created for R2, but has now been retrofitted to allow either astronauts or auto workers back here on Earth to perform work without succumbing to repetitive stress injuries. Popular Science got a firsthand look at the new glove and says its official names is the “Human Grasp Assist” and it gives people that wear it a stronger grip. It can be seen here in action in a video the team has posted on YouTube.
A stronger grip that doesn’t tire is pretty important for both auto workers and astronauts. For those building cars, repeatedly using the same hand and the same tool to attach something to a car can result in fatigue and eventually an inability to perform the work at hand. To prevent such an occurrence, GM now employs a shift change on some assembly lines as often as every fifteen minutes. Something that’s not very efficient. Astronauts on the other hand have to hold on to tools very tightly while walking in space or risk losing their tools, which has already happened on several occasions.
The robo-glove solves both problems, NASA and GM report in their announcement, by integrating sensors and tiny hydraulics that allow the fingers to retract, or grip, whenever the sensors tell them that something needs to be gripped. And that happens when the person wearing the glove grabs something with the glove.
PopSci says the robo-glove was a natural outgrowth of the research done with R2. On that project, the robots hands needed to be created in a way that would allow it to manipulate tools made for the human hand. So successful as that endeavor that the team decided to move the technology over to the human hand, giving its wearer a bit of bionic control.
Pressure sensors in the fingertips let the glove know when something is to be grasped. Actuators, or little motors then retract the fingers and hold them in place until the human relaxes their own hand inside. The result is a glove that allows its user to exert as little as five or ten pounds of force to hold onto something and a glove that can double or triple that pressure.
All in all the team says, it appears it’s a win-win situation for all parties involved.