Robotic glove technology used on the International Space Station is being redeveloped to give factory workers better grip of their tools and reduce hand fatigue.
The RoboGlove was originally developed by Nasa in cooperation with General Motors (GM) for the Robonaut 2 humanoid robot to provide it with the ability to grip and manipulate objects.
Swedish company Bioservo has now licensed the technology to combine it with its existing glove systems designed for people with a weakening grip.
The battery-powered RoboGlove is fitted with sensors, actuators and tendons that act similarly to muscles and nerves in a human hand.
“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,” said Tomas Ward, CEO of Bioservo Technologies.
GM said it intends to be the first to provide the redeveloped space glove to its workers to make it easier for them to work with heavy tools and operate machinery. Studies have shown that when a worker continuously grips a tool, hand fatigue can occur within only a few minutes.
“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,” said Kurt Wiese, vice president of GM Global Manufacturing Engineering.
GM briefly tested the original RoboGlove in a preproduction plant before looking for a partner to help refine it to fit different size hands and address other issues.
Bioservo hopes the technology could also be used in medical rehabilitation or to help people with a weakening grip in everyday tasks.
According to estimates, up to five per cent of the global population between 16 and 84 years of age suffers from a weakening hand grip.
Reduced hand function has a large impact on both quality-of-life and the capability to perform everyday tasks.