General Motors and NASA are jointly developing a robotic glove that auto workers and astronauts can wear to help do their respective jobs better while potentially reducing the risk of repetitive stress injuries.
The Human Grasp Assist device, known internally in both organizations as the K-glove or Robo-Glove, resulted from GM and NASA’s Robonaut 2 (R2) project, which launched the first human-like robot into space in 2011. R2 is a permanent resident of the International Space Station.
Research shows that continuously gripping a tool can cause fatigue in hand muscles within a few minutes. Initial testing of the Robo-Glove indicates the wearer can hold a grip longer and more comfortably.
“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, Global Automation Strategy and Execution. “In so doing, it is expected to reduce the risk of repetitive stress injury.”
For example, an astronaut working in a pressurized suit outside the space station or an assembly operator in a factory might need to use 15-20 pounds of force to hold a tool during an operation but with the robotic glove only five-to-10 pounds of force might need to be applied.
NASA – Inspired by the finger actuation system of R2, actuators are embedded into the upper portion of the glove to provide grasping support to human fingers. The pressure sensors, similar to the sensors that give R2 its sense of touch, are incorporated into the fingertips of the glove to detect when the user is grasping a tool. When the user grasps the tool, the synthetic tendons automatically retract, pulling the fingers into a gripping position and holding them there until the sensor is released.
The new Human Grasp Assist device, or Robo-Glove, was built through the continuing partnership between NASA and General Motors. It uses Robonaut 2 technology to increase the strength of a human’s grasp. Credit: NASA
“The K-Glove is the first of what we expect to be many spinoffs derived from Robonaut 2,” said Ron Diftler, Robonaut 2 project manager. “Another example is we’re developing arms built on Robonaut technology to be used on NASA’s multi-mission Space Exploration Vehicle.” The first prototype of the glove was completed in March 2011 with a second generation arriving three months later. The fabric for the glove was produced by Oceaneering Space Systems, the same company that provided R2’s “skin.”
The current prototypes weigh about 2 pounds and include the control electronics, actuators and a small display for programming and diagnostics. An off-the-shelf lithium-ion power-tool battery with a belt-clip is used to power the system. A third-generation prototype that will use repackaged components to reduce the size and weight of the system is nearing completion.
The Human Grasp Assist, based on the robotic hand of GM and NASA’s Robonaut 2, uses leading-edge sensors, actuators and tendons comparable to the nerves, muscles and tendons in a human hand. The glove, still in prototype stage, is expected to be used in space and applied to manufacturing plant use on Earth.