Robo-Glove and the commercialized version Ironhand® has won the NASA Commercial Invention of the Year Award for 2020. Ironhand® is the world’s first active soft exoskeleton for the hand.
The RoboGlove is essentially a soft exoskeleton glove – inspired by NASA’s Robonaut humanoid robot – that provides a power assist to workers who operate tools for extended periods, or who operate tools that require repetitive motions, such as automobile workers on assembly lines. The glove offers 15-20 pounds of extra force and, in short bursts, up to 50 pounds. This allows workers to use a lighter grip for the most demanding tasks and reduces strain on muscles and ligaments.
The benefits do not end at the assembly line. The glove can also be used for many other applications, including the construction industry, shipping warehouses, and medical and rehabilitation clinics to help people recover from injuries and assist those who battle chronic diseases.
The device showed promise for use by NASA during a ground test with a high-fidelity spacesuit glove. Spacewalking astronauts grip tools, handrails, and large pieces of machinery during the time inside their spacesuits. While microgravity allows the astronauts to move thousands of pounds with just their pinky finger, gripping objects is more difficult. Spacesuits and gloves are pressurized to survive the harsh conditions of space. While gripping the tools and equipment, astronauts must work against that pressure.
NASA’s Inventions and Contributions Board wrote:
“The winning invention, “Robo-Glove,” is the world’s first soft robotic muscle strengthening system for professional users. In developing the Robo-Glove, NASA set out to assist astronauts, improve the efficiency of spacewalks, and extend its capabilities in space exploration. Co-developer General Motors sought to improve the safety and effectiveness of the production operators working in its manufacturing plants. Robo-Glove in its commercial product form of “Ironhand” has far exceeded the current state of the art which includes: uncomfortable hand exoskeletons, passive grip strengthening gloves, or low strength rehabilitation gloves used by individuals who, for medical reasons, cannot create simple grasps. General Motors workers are using Ironhand on automobile assembly lines and performing well. No other currently available grasp assist glove is effective in performing these types of demanding manual assembly tasks.”
You can read the NASA announcement here.