General Motors (GM) has teamed up with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to develop a robotic glove that both automotive-assembly workers and astronauts can wear "to help do their respective jobs better while potentially reducing the risk of repetitive-stress injuries."
The Robo-Glove, the project's internal name, is an off-shoot of GM and NASA's Robonaut 2 program, which is the first human-like robot to go into space and has become a permanent resident of the International Space Station.
When engineers, researchers and scientists from GM and NASA began collaborating on R2 in 2007, one of the requirements was for the robot to operate tools designed for humans. Using leading-edge sensors, actuators and tendons to mimic nerves, muscles and tendons in the human hand, the team achieved an unprecedented level of hand dexterity on R2.
Inspired by the finger-actuation system of R2, the actuators of the Robo-Glove are embedded onto its upper portion to provide grasping support to one's fingers. In addition, pressure sensors, similar to the ones that give R2 its sense of touch, are incorporated into the glove's fingertips to detect when the user is grasping a tool. When activated, the synthetic tendons automatically retract, pulling the fingers into a gripping position and holding them there until the sensor is released.
While research shows that continuously gripping a tool can cause fatigue in hand muscles within a few minutes, initial test results of the Robo-Glove indicate that the wearer can hold a grip longer and more comfortably. According to GM and NASA, if an astronaut working in a pressurized suit outside the space station or an assembly line worker in a factory might need to use 15 to 20 pounds of force to hold a tool during an operation, with the robotic glove, only five to 10 pounds of force might be needed to accomplish the same task.
"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 manufacturing engineering director for global automation strategy and execution. "In so doing, it is expected to reduce the risk of repetitive-stress injury."
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