Both auto workers and astronauts are at risk of repetitive stress injuries due to the nature of their job. To minimize the risk, a robotic glove is being jointly developed by General Motors and NASA. Internally known in both GM and NASA as the K-glove or Robo-Glove, this Human Grasp Assist device is actually an offshoot of their Robonaut 2 (R2) project, which had launched the first human-like robot into space in 2011.
This project is based at the International Space Station. When engineers, researchers and scientists from GM and NASA started to collaborate on R2 in 2007, it was required that the robot had to operate tools designed for humans. The team attained an exceptional level of hand dexterity on R2 with the use of advanced sensors, actuators and tendons similar to the nerves, muscles and tendons in a human hand.
According to research, it takes only a few minutes of continuously gripping a tool to cause fatigue in hand muscles. First tests on the Robo-Glove indicated that the wearer could hold a grip more comfortably and for a longer period. For instance, 15-20 pounds of force may be required to hold a tool but it could drop to just five-to-10 pounds with the use of a robotic glove.
This is useful to an astronaut who is working in a pressurized suit outside the space station or an assembly operator in a plant. Trish Petete, division chief, Crew and Thermal Systems Division, NASA Johnson Space Center, said that this prototype glove offers an opportunity to look at new ideas with the development of extravehicular activity hand dexterity.
The actuators, which are inspired by the finger actuation system of R2, are embedded into the upper portion of the glove to provide grasping support to human fingers. Pressure sensors are placed into the fingertips of the glove to sense when the user is grasping a tool. These sensors to those used on the R2 to have a sense of touch. Upon grasping, the synthetic tendons instantly retract, pulling the fingers into a gripping position and keep them there until the sensor is released.
A total of 46 patent applications were submitted by GM and NASA for R2, including 21 for R2’s hand and four for just the Robo-Glove. The first prototype of the glove was completed in March 2011. A second generation arrived just three months later. Oceaneering Space Systems produced the glove fabric. This is the same company that made R2’s “skin."