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."