NASA, General Motors team to build robotic glove for human hands

Robo-Glove uses sensors, actuators and tendons comparable to the nerves, muscles and tendons in a human hand

nasa and gm robo hand
NASA and General Motors today said they were developing a robotic glove humans can use to prevent or reduce the risk of repetitive stress injuries.

The Human Grasp Assist device, also known as the K-glove or Robo-Glove, resulted from GM and NASA's Robonaut 2 (R2) project, which sent the first human-like robot into space where it is now lives on the International Space Station.

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According to GM, when engineers, researchers and scientists from the auto giant and NASA began collaborating on R2 in 2007, one of the design requirements was for the robot to operate tools designed for humans, alongside astronauts in outer space and factory workers on Earth. The team achieved an unprecedented level of hand dexterity on R2 by using leading-edge sensors, actuators and tendons comparable to the nerves, muscles and tendons in a human hand, the companies stated

According to GM, 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. 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.

According to NASA,  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. 

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The current prototypes weigh about two 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 could appear soon, the companies stated.

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