Automotive industry is much wider than an average car driver knows. Because of the vast technological expertise needed to produce an entire car (from the plastic in the instrument cluster to engine management system) car manufacturers are able to make much more than just means of transport. This is once more proven by General Motors and NASA partnership resulting in a “Power” glove.
This robotic glove was developed specifically to be used in International Space Station. However, it is going to find many more practical applications as now it is being brought to reality by Bioservo Technologies AB, a Swedish medical technology company. It is said that this “Power” glove might be useful in health care, manufacturing and other applications. The reasons for this versatility are hidden in the technology of this peculiar device.
Bioservo has a technology called SEM (Soft Extra Muscle) Glove, which they are going to combine with the RoboGlove, a force-multiplying wearable developed during GM and NASA’s nine-year collaboration. This long-term collaboration included launching of Robonaut 2 (R2), a humanoid robot, into space in 2011. R2 is very important for this story, because this robot had to make use of tools designed for humans. It resulted in technology later applied in RoboGlove, which has sensors, actuators and tendons that are comparable to the nerves, muscles and tendons in a human hand.
How such glove could be useful for us on Earth? Well, Bioservo says that it will help reducing fatigue in hand muscles, which can occur within a few minutes of continuously gripping a tool in a factory. Kurt Wiese, vice president of GM Global Manufacturing Engineering, said: “The successor to RoboGlove can reduce the amount of force that a worker needs to exert when operating a tool for an extended time or with repetitive motions”. Furthermore, it does not take a lot of imagination to see its application in health care.
General Motors is probably going to be the first U.S. manufacturing customer for the refined robotic glove. Automotive plant is just that kind of place where people could really make use of such grip-enhancing device as workers have to repeatedly take and put down a tool. We will have to wait and see how this project will develop and when it will reach other applications as well.