NASA Johnson Space Center (JSC) and General Motors (GM) have developed a human grasp assist device called the Robo-Glove.
This innovation significantly increases the strength of a human’s grasp, potentially allowing astronauts to work more effectively in space and reducing the risk of repetitive stress injuries for workers here on Earth. This powered human grasp assist augments the grasp of a human hand by means of linear actuators and high-strength polymer tendons. The actuators and tendons provide additional force to the user’s fingers, thus reducing the total grasp effort needed to hold or manipulate an object in the user’s hand.
NASA and GM collaborated on every aspect of the design, development, and manufacturing process for the human grasp assist device. Ron Diftler, Robonaut project manager at JSC, and Marty Linn, Robonaut project manager for GM, led a core team of NASA and GM engineers who worked together onsite within JSC’s Software, Robotics and Simulation Division. In 2007, NASA and GM joined forces on Robonaut2 (R2), a state-of-the-art, highly dexterous robot capable of working side-by-side with people. The robotic glove, a spinoff from R2, builds on the partnership between government and industry.
This innovation significantly increases the strength of a human’s grasp, potentially allowing astronauts to work more effectively in space and reducing the risk of repetitive stress injuries for workers here on Earth.
NASA and GM developed the Robo-Glove under a collaborative Space Act Agreement. The partners have jointly submitted four patent applications for the human grasp assist device. One patent has been granted, and three additional ones are pending. Nearly every patent includes both GM and NASA personnel. In total, NASA and GM have submitted 46 patent applications for R2, including 16 for R2’s hand.
The Robo-Glove benefits NASA by enabling astronauts to grip tools for longer periods of time without experiencing discomfort or strain. The Robo-Glove benefits GM by enabling auto workers to exert less force when operating a tool. More broadly, the Robo-Glove has the potential to benefit the hundreds of thousands of American workers whose jobs require operating tools for an extended time or with repetitive motions (e.g., construction workers, hazardous material workers, assembly line operators), reducing the risk of work-related injuries and absences while increasing manufacturing productivity. In addition, this technology can be used in prosthetics, rehabilitation, and for patients with impaired or limited muscle strength (as seen with multiple sclerosis or rheumatoid arthritis).