GM-NASA space robot partnership brings ‘power glove’ to life


Robotic glove technology, developed from a partnership between General Motors (GM) and NASA, for use on the International Space Station, is being brought to life in healthcare, manufacturing and other applications, including inspection, through a licensing agreement between GM and Bioservo Technologies AB, a Swedish medical technology company.

Working with GM, Bioservo will combine technology from its SEM Glove™ (Soft Extra Muscle) with the RoboGlove, a force-multiplying wearable human grasp assist device developed during GM and NASA’s nine-year collaboration, which included the launch of Robonaut 2 (R2), a humanoid robot, into space in 2011.

The RoboGlove uses leading-edge sensors, actuators and tendons that are comparable to the nerves, muscles and tendons in a human hand. One design requirement for R2 was to operate tools designed for humans and the developers achieved unprecedented hand dexterity with regard to this aim. This technology was applied to the RoboGlove.

Bioservo will initially develop a new human grasp assist device for industrial use that could increase efficiency while reducing fatigue in hand muscles. Research shows that fatigue can occur within a few minutes of continuously gripping a tool.

“Combining the best of three worlds – space technology from NASA, engineering from GM and medical technology from Bioservo – in a new industrial glove could lead to industrial-scale use of the technology,” said Tomas Ward, CEO of Bioservo Technologies.

Tomas described this combination of technology as a major step towards introducing soft exoskeleton technology globally.

GM intends to be the first USA manufacturing customer for the refined robotic glove and will test it in some of its plants. Bioservo will produce and sell the new glove for a variety of uses, including medical rehabilitation and any area in which additional gripping strength is needed.

“The successor to RoboGlove can reduce the amount of force that a worker needs to exert when operating a tool for an extended period of time or with repetitive motions,” said Kurt Wiese, Vice President of GM Global Manufacturing Engineering. 

GM briefly tested RoboGlove in a preproduction plant before looking for a partner to help refine it to fit different sized hands and to address any other issues. 

Financial details of the license granted to Bioservo by GM, NASA and Oceaneering International Inc were not disclosed.