A robotic glove developed for use by astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS) is finding new life on Earth. The RoboGlove, developed by Nasa in partnership with General Motors, provides a "soft exoskeleton" that increases the gripping power of the wearer and is now being considered for use in manufacturing and medical applications.
The RoboGlove, described by its creators as a "force-multiplying battery-powered wearable", contains sensors, actuators and tendons designed to imitate the nerves, muscles and tendons in the human hand.
The device was designed by GM and Nasa during a nine-year collaboration, which included the launch of the humanoid Robonaut 2 (R2) robot into space in 2011. One of the requirements of R2 was to operate tools designed for humans, which requires a high level of hand dexterity. Technology from the robot was eventually integrated into the RoboGlove.
Notwithstanding the fact that it could make you a champion arm wrestler, RoboGlove will now be put to use in industries where extra gripping power could be of use, as well as in medical rehabilitation. According to Nasa, a factory might need to use 15-20 pounds of force to hold and use a tool, compared to just five to 10 pounds of force while wearing the RoboGlove.
The glove will be manufactured and sold by Swedish medical company Bioservo, who will combine RoboGlove with its own grip-enhancing Soft Extra Muscle (SEM) Glove assistive aid and create new models that fit various hand sizes.
Bioservo will initially develop the new device for industrial use that could increase human operator efficiency while reducing fatigue in hand muscles, as well for medical rehabilitation. Meanwhile, General Motors will put the new and improved RoboGlove to use in some of its factories in the US.
Tomas Ward, CEO of Bioservo Technologies, said: "Combining the best of three worlds – space technology from NASA, engineering from GM and medtech from Bioservo – in a new industrial glove could lead to industrial scale use of the technology."