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3/15/2012
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NASA, GM Team To Develop 'Robo-Glove'

Glove that complements the strength of the human hand could help astronauts and auto workers alike reduce muscle stress from gripping tools for long periods of time.

NASA's Next Mission: Deep Space
NASA's Next Mission: Deep Space
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With the help of General Motors (GM), NASA has developed new robotic glove that could help astronauts and auto workers reduce repetitive stress injuries.

The work on the Robo-Glove is an extension of a partnership between the two that created the first humanoid robot in space. The robot, Robonaut 2 (R2), is currently performing astronaut-assist duties on as well as tweeting from the International Space Station.

The glove--officially called the Human Grasp Assist device, but dubbed Robo-Glove for short--was developed out of work on R2 to ensure the robot could operate tools designed for human beings, according to NASA.

The NASA and GM team used mechanical sensors, tendons, and actuators--or motors--similar to nerves, muscle, and tendons in the human hand to give R2 a high level of manual dexterity, according to NASA. They decided to expand that work to create a separate device to complement the strength of a human hand, which is how the idea for Robo-Glove was born. Robo-Glove works through a series of actuators and sensors that can detect when someone is grasping a tool and automatically provide support by pulling the fingers into a gripping position, according to NASA.

[ Feds' robotic "cheetah" gets faster. See DARPA Robot Sprints To Speed Record. ]

The current Robo-Glove prototypes weigh about two pounds, including control electronics, actuators, and a small programming and diagnostics display. The system is powered by an off-the-shelf lithium-ion power-tool battery with a belt clip. NASA and GM are putting the finishing touches on a third-generation prototype that will reduce the size and weight of Robo-Glove by using repackaged components, according to NASA.

In testing, the robotic glove has allowed people gripping tools for a long period of time to hold that grip longer and more comfortably, the development partners said.

For this reason, NASA and GM said they see value in using Robo-Glove for when their constituents--which in the case of the former are astronauts, and in the case of the latter are auto workers--must exert manual pressure on tools for long periods of time.

"The prototype glove offers my spacesuit team a promising opportunity to explore new ideas, and challenges our traditional thinking of what extravehicular activity hand dexterity could be," said Trish Petete, division chief for the crew and thermal systems division at NASA's Johnson Space Center, in a press statement.

Robo-Glove is not the only spin-off technology to be developed from collaborative work on R2. The partners also are developing robotic arms based on the humanoid robot that will be used on NASA's Space Exploration Vehicle, according to the space agency.

InformationWeek's 2012 Government IT Innovators program will feature the most innovative government IT organizations in the 2012 InformationWeek 500 issue and on InformationWeek.com. Does your organization have what it takes? The nomination period for 2012 Government IT Innovators closes April 27.

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