The Robo-Glove's real ingenuity lies in its use of electronics to learn the wearer's intentions. Force-sensitive resistors in the fingertips work with a microprocessor, software, and a set of motor controllers to endow the system with closed-loop control. "When you come in contact with something and squeeze, the reaction is immediate," Linn said. "The microprocessor reads the sensors, understands the intent of the user, and tells the motors to actuate. The motors cinch everything up and give you the extra force you need."
The glove is an offshoot of Robonaut 2 (R2), a collaborative GM-NASA project that provided a dexterous working robot for the International Space Station. Unlike R2, GM sees the Robo-Glove as a product that can be commercialized.
Linn said the device could have applications in the robotics market, particularly in the growing area that includes humanoid robots and exoskeletons. Clothing companies could also incorporate the technology into work gloves. GM is still studying the prototype to learn which applications would make the most sense.
Early research by the automaker has shown that auto workers wearing a Robo-Glove can grip a tool longer and more comfortably. The company says the glove could reduce the risk of repetitive stress injuries.
"We don't know yet what the best applications will be," Linn said. "Our approach is to try it out on a bunch of tasks and let the operators, who are the real experts, tell us whether it helps or not."
I've read about a couple of projects in this area lately, but this seems to go a step further with the intelligent sensors that make some sort of interpretation as to how the user wants to operate the hand. That seems pretty advanced in my book. Is this something GM is developing for use internally or would there be commercial applications/availability for it outside of automotive manufacturing? Seems odd that GM would spend time developing/commercializing something a competitor might use.
Beth, i had a similar conversation with Chuck about this the other day. Chuck, can you elaborate on whether GM has plans to mass produce this product, or will they use it internally? In any case, it will be interesting to see what type of companys will employ the Robo-Glove.
As Rob has indicated here, GM will likely commercialize this through licensing. Make no mistake, though, even though they are not planning to mass produce it themselves, they are very serious about commercialization. And they are open to ideas for innovative ways to use the technology.
Itis good to see GM put engineering labor and cost into something that helps their employees health and well being. If this technology is deployed in their factory and their repetetive motion injury rate goes down, the result to their bottom line will be substantial.
Ann: GM is very open to ideas for commercialization. While I was talking with them, they mentioned possible uses in defense applications and in clothing lines. They also mentioned a prominent shoe manufacturer in our discussions, but didn't indicate how that company might use it.
Chuck, I get defense applications, but clothing? And shoes? Anyway, the medical/health apps look pretty compelling. As Nancy mentions, carpal tunnel/tendonitis/repetitive stress sufferers could also benefit, on top of people who have lost even more functioning.
This device has the potential to become a mass production, mass appeal comodity item! No need to limit it to the assembly line or for relief from medical conditions. It would be handy for most everyone on a daily basis, especially those of us who are aging. And isn't that ultimately all of us?
I'm at the point where opening vacuum sealed jar lids becomes a brute force challenge, where soft tissue does not respond as well to stress or heal as rapidly from an insult.
Even for low force tasks such as gripping the tripod handle of a film/video camera for an hour or more of continuous filming the glove would help eliminate finger cramps! I assume, with some sort of locking cam or gear action, the glove would not have to consume a lot of battery power to hold its grip, only to change it.
This device would appear to be, in some ways, superior to the exoskeleton devices the Department of Defence is testing for soldiers needing to carry heavy supplies to the battlefield. It would certainly help them hold a weapon or a joy stick for prolonged periods of time.
You're right on the money, bdcst. I think these are the kinds of apps that GM is thinking of. There must be a lot of potential applications in which this technology could be used to prevent Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.
Ann: I don't think GM wanted to put it into shoes. They just happend to drop the name of a shoe/clothing company and suggested that there was an application there. I don't know how that company could possibly use it, but it does make sense that a company that makes work clothing could incorporate it into gloves.
Thanks, Chuck that makes sense. bdcst, I often have the same problem opening jars, and keep three different jar-opening tools in my kitchen utensil drawer. One of them usually works. But I agree, this glove would make a great alternative for several other tasks that involve gripping for long periods of time.
As a FORMER GM stockholder and long-time member of a "GM FAMILY" I feel I'm qualified to state that if the people at GM were focused on MAKING AUTOMOBILES may be I wouldn't have to use their stock certificates for wallpapering my bathroom. I the morons would concentrate on styling and car engineering they would't have time for gloves, etc.
Ann, I see your point about shoes, but there might actually be a medical application that crosses over. We have a chiropractor friend who is constantly brainstorming ideas for his patients.He wants to invent shoes for the elderly that will self-adjust as they walk. While grasping is not something I would see as applicable, using tiny servo motors and the associated hardware in a similar fashion to apply force may be a way to manipulate the positioning of the foot in the shoe in a way that adjusts it for proper posture.
I'm with you and bdcst on trying to get those jar lids open!
Chuck, Very cool development. The packaging of the system (motors and ballscrews) must have been a significant challenge with this. Great to see the linkage to their work with NASA on the humanoid robot project.
This is a very exciting development – I know so many people who are suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome and this looks like a great preventative measure and even a way for those who have a repetitive stress injury to be able to continue to work. I will be looking forward to what the operators have to say about it! I wonder how cost effective it will be to implement because I think the possibilities are so huge...very cool!
Nancy, I suspect that worker injuries may have played a role in the decision to do this. (GM did not discuss this with me, however.) I can only imagine how many employess GM must have with those kinds of problems.
Yes, Sensor pro, it is good to see GM innovating in a non-auto field. Decades ago, that was more the norm, where companies would go far afield with their innovations with some very interesting results. 3M, Bell Labs, many others.
Yes, Nancy, perhaps this is the beginning of a new era of innovation. The airline industry is developing composite materials that will be used elsewhere. Ford is developing new eco-materials for the interior of their vehicles.
I think we may have discussed this previously, Rob, but I believe 3M actually had a 10% rule that allowed employees to use 10% of their time to explore their own new ideas. As I recall, the guy who invented Post-It Notes was doing it on his 10% time, so he could create little temporary sticky notes for his Sunday prayer book. That would seem to be time-well-spent for 3M.
Yes, the Post-It Notes is a great 3M story, Chuck. I didn't realize they had a formal policy of 10 percent exploratory work. Google has a similar policy, allowing employees to take 20 percent of their workweek for pet projects.
Yes, I guess it's easy to point to successes such as the Post-It Note and declare that 10% time (or 20% time in Google's Case) is a great idea. But I wonder how often those ideas never see the light of day.
This is quite an interesting product and it certainly would offer value in many areas aside from automotive manufacturing. The very interesting application that I can see is for it to be used to program a robot hand, used either with or without the rest of the industrial robot. It could be far more flexible than a standard gripper.
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