Back in early 2010, General Motors and NASA announced the development of Robonaut 2 (R2), a project that they’d been working on since 2007 (autofieldguide.com/blog/post/gm-nasa-remarkable-robots). As its name implies, it is a robot. A humanoid robot for space. R2 has actually been a member of the International Space Station team since 2011.
As GM’s main business is more terrestrial, its interest in the development was creating something that has dexterity for more complex assembly operations than can ordinarily be performed by automation.
But an interesting outcome is the development of the Robo-Glove, a glove that can be worn by people on Spaceship Earth.
“When fully developed,” said Dana Komin, GM’s manufacturing engineering director, Global Automation Strategy and Execution, “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. In so doing, it is expected to reduce the risk of repetitive stress injury.”
There are pressure sensors in the tips of the glove that detect when the wearer is grasping a tool. Then synthetic tendons automatically retract so that the tool is firmly gripped. A sensor actuation releases the tool when required.
This system doesn’t wholly remove the amount of effort necessary to grip the tool, but it greatly reduces it, by as much as half or more. That is, they’ve calculated that whereas it might take 15 to 20 lb. to grasp a tool, the Robo-Glove reduces that to 5 to 10 lb. of force.
The prototype weighs 2 lb. An off-the-shelf lithium-ion battery ordinarily used for power tools powers the system; it is clipped to the worker’s belt.
This is not just science fiction, either. Said Komin: “Our goal is to bring this technology to the shop floor in the near future.”