NASA is constantly on the lookout for technologies that can help it achieve its mission to our neighboring planet Mars. Every year, the agency recognizes an invention and software developed by the NASA team sponsored by NASA’s Office of the General Counsel. This year, the award goes to the RoboGlove, a “soft exoskeleton glove” that provides a power assist motion to workers that are grasping tools or equipment. The RoboGlove can supplement “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.”*
While NASA has yet to integrate this innovation into its space suits, the technology is used in the “IronHand” by Bioservo Technologies in Sweden. Bioservo Technologies has been developing powered-glove exoskeletons for well over a decade, so it is not entirely clear which parts of the NASA RoboGlove have been integrated into the company’s hand soft robotic exoskeleton portfolio.
“’We are very proud of receiving this award which recognizes a lot of hard work over the last years.’ Says Petter Bäckgren, CEO at Bioservo and continues, ‘without the close collaboration with and the continuous feedback from our development partners, such as General Motors, we would not have been able to make Ironhand® so intuitive, comfortable and ergonomic.’”**
Exoskeletons in Space?
The NASA press release illuminates the agency’s interest in powered gloves: “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 Announces 2020 Invention and Software of the Year Awards, NASA.Gov, July 15, 2020, link
**Ironhand® wins NASA Commercial Invention of the Year Award, Bioservo Technologies, July 17, 2020, link