NASA and GM became partners in the development of the Human Grasp Assistant device in 2007. The idea for the device, affectionately nicknamed Robo-Glove, was conceived while they working together on the Robonaut 2 (R2) project.
R2 needed to be able to operate tools designed for humans. This required a robotic hand with a high level of dexterity and precision. While the benefits to NASA were obvious, the application could also be very useful to GM. Workers wearing the Robo-Glove could perform certain tasks better and more safely because it makes a person’s grip stronger. It also reduces the amount of force needed to hold a tool from 15-20 pounds to 5-10 pounds.
Actuators embedded into the upper part of the glove provide human fingers with more grasping support. Robo-Glove uses pressure senses similar to the ones the give R2 a sense of touch. In the hand assistant device, the pressure sensors located in the fingertips detect when the human is grasping a tool. Then the synthetic tendons retract. This pulls the fingers into a closed position and the object won’t be released until the sensor tells it to. By using sensors in tandem with actuators and synthetic tendons, Robo-Glove can function like a human hand.
There have been several prototypes. One of the most recent includes control electronics, linear actuators, a small display for programming and diagnostics and a belt-mounted lithium-ion battery,. GM and NASA first began collaborating on projects in the 1960s, developing navigation systems for the different Apollo missions.