NASA, General Motors and Bioservo enter into the ultimate alliance to bring power gloves to the workplace. For the exoskeleton field, this is the greatest alliance between theoretical science and commercial engineering for an industrial application.
This is not the ProGlove (proglove.de) that made the news last month. The ProGlove is an IoT device that monitors whether a worker has picked up parts from a labeled box or has performed a predetermined set of motions. If the wearer does something wrong, the glove blinks or vibrates. The ProGlove is a standard wearable: it flashes and beeps but provides no assistive force.
The NASA-GM power glove is a power assist device that augments the muscle strength of the user. Traditionally, similar gloves have been used for the medical rehabilitation field. Bioservo has been one of the earliest pioneers of power gloves for work & industry.
Typically, powered gloves are used to help workers with a weak grasp gain a stronger hold on tools. The NASA-GM Bioservo licensing agreement aims to take this even further. The goal is to create a power glove that can provide force assist to healthy people. Even healthy workers can tire out and experience pain in the fingers after performing the same task repeatedly. Reducing fatigue in the fingers and wrist could lead to improved productivity, decrease in faults, and injury rates. GM assembly plants will be used as a test bed to gauge the success of the project.
What does Bioservo bring to the table?
Compared to the likes of NASA and General Motors, Bioservo is a relatively new and small entity. However, it still has a lot to bring to the table. There are several Inflatable Soft Robotic Glove Exoskeletons and many rigid power gloves with directly attached actuators. Bioservo is the premier expert in remotely driven soft power gloves.
The SEM (Soft Extra Muscle) Glove by Bioservo combines the best of classical rigid robots and soft wearable robotics under one roof. The SEM Glove itself is made out of light fabric. The batteries, motors, and controller are combined in a single casing that can be clipped on a belt or placed in a backpack and weighs about 600g (or 1.3 pounds). This reduces the metabolic cost of carrying them to a minimum. The force of the motors is transmitted to the SEM Glove through the equivalent of Bowden cables. The glove provides actuation for three fingers (thumb, middle and ring fingers), each with a separate motor. The applied force is measured by circular sensors at the tip of the glove.
Usually, all the cables leading to the motors and controller would make the removal of the SEM Glove complicated were it not for an ingenious snap-on system by the Bioservo team. The snap-on system allows for the glove to connect or disconnect from the motor units in a single motion. This is a superior feature to other power gloves which have multiple connectors for sensors and actuation mechanism. The batteries are also interchangeable and easily accessible. The design is elegant and practical and all of the components have been shrunk down as much as possible.
In 2012 The SEM Glove won the Robotdalen Innovation Award. Even four years ago, the jury saw great potential in the company. The winner was selected amongst 24 teams from 12 countries. Below is an excerpt from the Robotdalen website:
Bioservo Technologies was founded by researchers from the Karolinska Institute and the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden. They combine their experiences about human needs, with modern robot technology knowledge, to create innovative products that strengthen the body. The jury sees the SEM Glove as an excellent example of a user-friendly, adaptive robotic assistance. They also assess that the prototype is ready for serial production with great opportunities to reach a global market.
Statement from the jury:
Bioservo Technologies develops and commercializes the concept of the SEM-Glove – an easy wearable textile device that adaptively adds robotic assistance to gripping strength through tendons and actuators. The jury agrees that the global market size is considerable in both main areas of the glove’s intended use. The application shows a clearly pronounced vision… The jury finds the SEM glove to be an excellent example of non-invasive adaptive robot assistance under permanent and uncomplicated user control finding it roots in the simplicity of Sir Isaac Newton’s discoveries.
Bioservo Technologies has already started to develop an excellent distribution network for the robotic SEM Glove, each with their own unique marketing material. The combination between the NASA-GM and Bioservo technology can potentially yield even more interesting prototypes.
GM-NASA Space Robot Partnership Brings ‘Power’ Glove to Life, 2016-July-06, GM Corporate Newsroom
Robot glove grabbed Robotdalen Innovation Award, 2012-Feb-13, news.cision
Iron Hand, ironhand.eu
Bioservo corporate website, bioservo.com