More Human Than Human: GM And NASA Develop Robotic Glove

By Blake Z. Rong | March 13, 2012
GM's involvement with our fair space program is nothing new. The company helped develop the navigation and guidance computer for the Apollo program, including the one used on Apollo 11. Its Delco Electronics subsidiary worked on the drive system for the Lunar Rover, at GM's Defense Research Laboratories in Santa Barbara, while GM engineers proposed an unmanned rover for the Surveyor Program. Those now-ubiquitous crash test dummies? GM was instrumental in adapting them from the aviation field into the realm of automotive safety, GM's robotic glove that it's developing with NASA sounds less dramatic than, say, the entire computer guidance system that helped humans reach the friggin' moon, but it's even more high-tech—plus, it has more implications for Earth use than Tang ever did. The Human Grasp Assist device, as it's formally known, or the Robo-Glove in Nintendo-circa-1989 naming conventions, will help assembly line workers hold a grip on tools longer and more comfortably. Maintaining a grip on an object can cause muscle fatigue in a few minutes, leading to a risk of repetitive stress injury
The Robo-Glove was first developed by GM and NASA back in 2007, when the two companies collaborated for the Robonaut 2 project. Robonaut was a human-like robot, shaped and sized like a torso and resembling Gort with a paintball mask, that could work on delicate tasks alongside astronauts, with the same hand tools. Its cold, dead robotic hands are packed with pressure sensors, driven by muscle-like tendons, and can move each finger individually—all the better for prying things out of. Robonaut's arms and hands can carry a total of 20 pounds. It's through this technology that GM was able to develop the Robo-Glove for its employees. The glove comes with fingertip pressure sensors to determine whether the user is holding onto something. Then, actuators lock the glove into place, holding the fingers into a gripping position until there's no more pressure applied to the sensors. The entire thing weighs two pounds, including the lithium-ion battery pack, and can presumably double as hand weights for beginner aerobic exercises. To say the least, it's a very impressive device. As far as everyday space technology goes, the Robo-Glove ranks above astronaut ice cream in terms of usefulness, but somewhere below the Nerf Glider for coolness. And GM's efforts with NASA back in 2007 reached some lofty heights—Robonaut 2 and its metal fingers are on the International Space Station, performing tasks alongside living, breathing, human astronauts. Source: GM