Robotic glove tech developed for space station finds use on terra firma

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If all goes to plan, GM will be the first company to use the new robotic glove(Credit: GM)

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A robotic glove that was originally designed for use on the International Space Station (ISS) has been licensed for use back home, where it could be put to work helping manufacturing workers. Developed in partnership between General Motors (GM) and NASA, the RoboGlove is designed to provide the user with extra gripping strength.

The RoboGlove makes use of numerous sensors, tendons and actuators that are designed to mimic the muscles, nerves and tendons of the human hand. It was developed during a nine-year collaboration between GM and NASA, which included sending the Robonaut 2 (R2) into space in 2011. Technology from R2, which was required to be able to operate tools made for humans, was incorporated into the RoboGlove.

The glove features pressure sensors in the fingers, with synthetic tendons retracting when a gripping motion is detected, holding the hand in place to reducing strain.

During the development of the RoboGlove, back in 2012, NASA spoke about how useful it might be in assisting users both in space and back home. The agency stated that while a factory worker, or an astronaut on a spacewalk, might have to exert 15-20 lbs (7-9 kg) of pressure when using a tool, the glove tech could lower that requirement to as little as 5-10 lbs (2.3-4.5 kg) of force.

With GM now eyeing up uses for the device back home, it could find a place in a number of settings, from manufacturing to health care. GM spent a little time testing out the current version of the glove in its plants, but has now licensed it out to Swedish medical tech company Bioservo Technologies for further development.

The company will work to refine the tech to fit varying hand sizes, while combining it with its own healthcare-focused servo glove technology. Its initial plan is to develop the grasp-assist device for industrial use, allowing workers to grip for extended periods of time without encountering muscle fatigue.

If all goes to plan, GM will be the first company to use the robotic glove, with plans to test the device out in its factories. If it proves successful, it could be used for practically anything that requires assisted or enhanced gripping capabilities, including medical rehabilitation applications.

Sources: GM, NASA

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