Robots have been a part of every automaker's manufacturing arsenal for three decades now, but that doesn't make this latest effort at improving plant automation any less cool. While most factory robots are neither humanoid nor particularly interesting, the only thing more exciting than this pseudo-cyborg hand for rivetheads is ordering up the entire run of The Six Million Dollar Man from Netflix.

While General Motors clearly doesn't have the cash or inclination to turn each of its roughly 50,000 United Auto Workers employees into Colonel Steve Austin, the new Robo-Glove would allow its wearer to have super hand strength. GM says the force required to grasp tools could be reduced by a third to a half for those wearing the special gloves, which are operated by a standard lithium-ion battery like the ones used to power cordless hand tools. The gloves would allow workers to hold their tools comfortably for longer periods of time and possibly reduce the risk of repetitive stress injury.

The gloves were an outgrowth of GM's partnership with NASA in developing the Robonaut 2, the first humanoid robot to be launched into space when it went up to the International Space Station last year. GM developed the first prototype gloves in March 2011, while the second generation was completed three months later. They weigh about a pound each and contain all the electronics, actuators and a small display.

Click past the jump to read the full press release, plus watch a video demonstration.

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GM, NASA Jointly Developing Robotic Gloves for Human Use
Robonaut technology coming to the factory floor or space station soon

HOUSTON – General Motors and NASA are jointly developing a robotic glove that auto workers and astronauts can wear to help do their respective jobs better while potentially reducing the risk of repetitive stress injuries.

The Human Grasp Assist device, known internally in both organizations as the K-glove or Robo-Glove, resulted from GM and NASA's Robonaut 2 (R2) project, which launched the first human-like robot into space in 2011. R2 is a permanent resident of the International Space Station.

When engineers, researchers and scientists from GM and NASA began collaborating on R2 in 2007, one of the design requirements was for the robot to operate tools designed for humans, alongside astronauts in outer space and factory workers on Earth. The team achieved an unprecedented level of hand dexterity on R2 by using leading-edge sensors, actuators and tendons comparable to the nerves, muscles and tendons in a human hand.

Research shows that continuously gripping a tool can cause fatigue in hand muscles within a few minutes. Initial testing of the Robo-Glove indicates the wearer can hold a grip longer and more comfortably.

"When fully developed, the Robo-Glove has the potential to reduce the amount of force that an auto worker would need to exert when operating a tool for an extended time or with repetitive motions," said Dana Komin, GM's manufacturing engineering director, Global Automation Strategy and Execution. "In so doing, it is expected to reduce the risk of repetitive stress injury."

For example, an astronaut working in a pressurized suit outside the space station or an assembly operator in a factory might need to use 15-20 pounds of force to hold a tool during an operation but with the robotic glove only five-to-10 pounds of force might need to be applied.

"The prototype glove offers my space suit 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, Crew and Thermal Systems Division, NASA Johnson Space Center.

Inspired by the finger actuation system of R2, actuators are embedded into the upper portion of the glove to provide grasping support to human fingers. The pressure sensors, similar to the sensors that give R2 its sense of touch are incorporated into the fingertips of the glove to detect when the user is grasping a tool. When the user grasps the tool, the synthetic tendons automatically retract, pulling the fingers into a gripping position and holding them there until the sensor is released.

GM and NASA have submitted 46 patent applications for R2, including 21 for R2's hand and four for the Robo-Glove alone.

The first prototype of the glove was completed in March 2011 with a second generation arriving three months later. The fabric for the glove was produced by Oceaneering Space Systems, the same company that provided R2's "skin."

The current prototypes weigh about two pounds and include the control electronics, actuators and a small display for programming and diagnostics. An off-the-shelf lithium-ion power-tool battery with a belt-clip is used to power the system. A third-generation prototype that will use repackaged components to reduce the size and weight of the system is nearing completion.
"We are continuously looking for ways to improve safety and productivity on the shop floor," Komin said. "Our goal is to bring this technology to the shop floor in the near future."

NASA and GM have a long, rich history of partnering on key technologies, starting in the 1960s with the development of the navigation systems for the Apollo missions. GM also played a vital role in the development of the Lunar Rover Vehicle, the first vehicle used on the moon.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 3 Years Ago
      I have to say this type of R/D and implementation of said R/D is fantastic. It's developments like this that give me confidence in GM going forward. Develop and advance the all aspects of your business not just the cars you make.
        Eric G
        • 3 Years Ago
        Exactly, this is exactly what GM needs to do. They need to keep working at and finding ways to improve their infrastructure to avoid making all the same mistakes again.
      • 3 Years Ago
      Excuse me, sir. Your PipBoy seems to be missing its screen.
      • 3 Years Ago
      I have to say this type of R/D and implementation of said R/D is fantastic. It's developments like this that give me confidence in GM going forward. Develop and advance the all aspects of your business not just the cars you make.
      • 3 Years Ago
      The episode of Big Bang Theory with Howard's robot arm just jumped into my head...
      • 3 Years Ago
      That is awesome. And a little scary.
      • 3 Years Ago
      I want one that gives me a first-strike punch like Mike Tyson. I can bite your ear off by myself....
      XJ Yamaha
      • 3 Years Ago
      Soon they'll invent such a device for those unable to, or for thus just too fatigued to walk and/or stand . It will consist of some sort of a supportive structure similar to a chair, with the inclusion of two propulsion assisting mechanisms nearly identical to wheels. Perhaps eventually this device will include it's own power source to require little to no human movement in order to operate. Quite a future in store for us....
        • 3 Years Ago
        @XJ Yamaha
        I envision a future of moving pictures, that are able to interact between man and machine through the use of sound and color... that one day we may use these moving pictures as everyday devices, some so small as to fit in our pocket. We would then have portable moving pictures.... I'm so excited for the next 100 years.
          • 3 Years Ago
          No way?! I also have a dream, one day we'll be able to share our thoughts with other people from around the world! We'll have these devices, see, which have the letters, numbers and symbols of our written language imprinted on their surface! We'll be able to press these surfaces with our fingers and voila our opinions are transmitted around the world on electrons, converted into photons and reconverted back into electrical impulses straight into the brains of our intended (and unintended recipients)! I see a future where we'll spend all day swapping opinions and sarcastic remarks about topics that somehow relate to hunks of metal, rubber, glass and plastic that use the power of fire to move around under our command.
      • 3 Years Ago
      or squeeze grips with pressure sensors in it so that we can see the difference in pressure
      • 3 Years Ago
      they should have had him pick up something with glove that he wouldn't normally be able to without it...
      • 3 Years Ago
      Hanson Bro
      • 3 Years Ago
      Sure makes me want to go out and purchase a government/union owned vehicle from GM!
        Corey Vest
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Hanson Bro
        Your picture depicts your ignorant mentality very well...
      • 3 Years Ago
      Imagine the size of the joint they could toke with that. Oh wait. That's Chrysler. :-)
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