NASA and GM glove gives workers robotic hands

After working on robot for space station, RoboGlove finds home on the ground

A robotic glove, developed out of a partnership between NASA and General Motors, will be used to make human factory workers more efficient, while reducing user fatigue and preventing injuries.

Dubbed the RoboGlove, the battery-powered wearable device initially was created as part of the nine-year effort to build Robonaut 2, a humanoid robot that is living and working onboard the International Space Station.

Now GM is working with Bioservo Technologies AB, a Swedish medical technology company, to continue developing the robotic glove so it can be used inside its own manufacturing factories.

The glove is designed to multiply the force that a human could normally exert on his or her own. Equipped with sensors and mechanical joints and tendons, the glove should be able to decrease hand and arm fatigue, which can begin to occur within just a few minutes of someone starting to use a particular tool.

"Combining the best of three worlds -- space technology from NASA, engineering from GM and med tech from Bioservo -- in a new industrial glove could lead to industrial-scale use of the technology," said Tomas Ward, CEO of Bioservo Technologies, in a written statement.

Ward also called the RoboGlove a great step forward in using soft exoskeleton technology.

According to GM, the glove could one day be used in health care settings, as well as in other industrial applications.

GM, though, plans to be the first company to use the glove, expecting to test it in some of its manufacturing plants. The auto manufacturer had run an earlier test of the glove before beginning to work with Bioservo to build the robotic gloves to fit different hand sizes and resolve other issues.

Bioservo is reportedly planning to manufacture and sell the glove to other companies.

Robonaut 2 was launched to the International Space Station onboard the space shuttle Discovery in February 2011.

The robot, initially shipped to the space station without legs but with a stand mount, has been focused on taking over some of the more mundane tasks -- like cleaning -- that humans had been handling on the space station.

Robonaut was given legs in 2014.

One day, NASA scientists hope that humanoid robots, which are built to be able to use human tools, will be able to handle tasks that need to be done outside the space station, saving humans from making dangerous space walks.

"If you're talking about the evolution of humans and robots working together, these kinds of things now seem possible," said Kris Verdeyen, an electrical engineer on NASA's Robonaut project, back in 2011. "It's a big step in the evolution of human/robotic work."

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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