When astronaut Dan Burbank and Robonaut shook hands last month, the 'bot didn't crush every bone in Burbank's hand. That's because NASA and GM designed Robonaut to be able to work in a human environment. One handy byproduct of that research: the Human Grasp Assist device, or Robo-Glove.
The joint research around Robonaut's manipulators led to an "unprecedented level of hand dexterity," according to NASA. A critical part of Robonaut's design was to be able to "operate tools designed for humans, alongside astronauts in outer space and factory workers on Earth."
With that goal in mind, the two companies worked to implement technology that mimicked the human hand, using "leading-edge sensors, actuators and tendons comparable to the nerves, muscles and tendons in a human hand." By turning the focus of the project back on humanity, the Human Grasp Assist device (also called the Robo-Glove or K-Glove) was created, and, in a sense, it would let humans work more effectively in a robot-tailored environment.
Wearing a Robo-Glove won't let you punch through a wall or anything, but it does sense when the user goes to grip something. That's when the glove's tech kicks in, exerting some helpful force that not only increases the force of a wearer's grip, but also means that any hand-labor-heavy takes less effort and causes less fatigue over time.
The way NASA frames it, the Robo-Glove sounds like it'd make you twice as strong, but we imagine it's not a rigid 2:1 ratio: "an astronaut working in a pressurized suit outside the space station or an assembly operator in a factory might need to use 15- to 20 pounds of force to hold a tool during an operation but with the robotic glove they might need to apply only five to 10 pounds of force."
The current Robo-Glove prototypes (the second generation of the technology) uses a lithium-ion battery — such as the one found in power tools — that clips to one's belt. Down the line, NASA and GM want to create a third-gen prototype that is smaller and lighter (currently the glove weighs two pounds), and its actually already near completion, according to the companies.