How many times have you helplessly pried at a jar lid and, regardless of your deadlift effort, failed to even so much as budge the lid a millimeter? You pass the jar around, giving others a go at twisting the lid off until finally somebody on the other side of the room succeeds at removing the lid in a feat no less remarkable than pulling Excalibur from its sheath of stone. All that effort for a little bit of salsa (or whatever jarred contents you prefer). If only our grips were better, right?
Lucky for you, your grip might be getting a boost sometime in the near-ish future.
By way of a joint venture between NASA and General Motors, that power-up for our feeble grip may be coming to us in the form of a new innovation called the Robo-Glove. Before the glove, which is also known as the K-Glove, becomes available to mere humans, it has nobler intentions than just opening the way for us to satisfy our junk food cravings: its aim is to help astronauts and autoworkers reduce the risk of job-related repetitive stress injuries.
The invention comes as a result of another NASA/GM creation, the Robonaut 2, a project that launched the first humanoid robot into space in 2011. To truly be of maximum use to its human counterparts, one of the requirements for Robonaut 2 was to be able to handily manipulate tools that were designed to be used by human hands. Through the use of sensors, actuators, and tendons that closely resembled nerves and muscles in the human hand, engineers were able to create an uncanny level of hand dexterity with Robonaut 2.
Ultimately, Robonaut 2 became a permanent resident aboard the International Space Station. For a little more background on Robonaut 2's development, see the NASA video below.
(And you know Robonaut 2 has its own Twitter account, right?)
So how does a space-traveling robot help us get those pesky lids off of jars (among other things)? Borrowing inspiration from Robonaut 2's finger actuation system, engineers were able to apply similar technology to a glove capable of assisting humans tasked with applying immense amounts of pressure to an object for a long period of time. For example, an astronaut working in a pressurized suit outside the space station or an assembly operator in a factory might need to use 15 to 20 pounds of force to hold a tool during an operation but with the Robo-glove they might need to apply only five to 10 pounds of force.
"The prototype glove offers my spacesuit team a promising opportunity to explore new ideas, and challenges our traditional thinking of what extravehicular activity hand dexterity could be," said Trish Petete, division chief at NASA's Johnson Space Center, said in a statement.
Concurrently, the glove also looks to reduce the risk of repetitive stress injuries, an occupational hazard that plagues those that work in automobile manufacturing. "When fully developed, the Robo-Glove has the potential to reduce the amount of force that an autoworker would need to exert when operating a tool for an extended time or with repetitive motions," said Dana Komin, GM's manufacturing engineering director.
You can see the Robo-glove in action in the video below.
Granted, we laity will probably be waiting several years with unopenable jars in hand before the Robo-glove is sharing space with can openers and spatulas in the kitchen drawer. I imagine many more functional, more in-demand uses for the glove (medicine, architecture, art, etc.) before the device is so low in stature and demand that its best use is to help you stuff your face with some store-bought guacamole.