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OM in the News: GM’s Bionic Factory Workers

July 11, 2016
GM worker wearing RoboGlove with Robonaut 2.

GM worker wearing RoboGlove with Robonaut 2.

General Motors builds a lot of cars. Last year, the company sold more than 3 million cars, trucks, and SUVs just in the US. “As a result,” writes Business Insider (July 7, 2016), “the company is constantly on the look out for ways to make the manufacturing process more efficient.” This week, GM announced that its workers will test out a battery-powered, force-multiplying robotic glove using technology the automaker and NASA developed for use on the International Space Station.

The high-tech glove features a series of sensors, actuators, and tendons that are designed to mimic the dexterity of the human hand, but with amplified gripping force. According to GM, the robotic glove will reduce fatigue for workers engaged in repetitive motions.

The technology — called RoboGlove— was created as part of a 9-year partnership between NASA and GM which culminated in the 2011 launch into space of a humanoid robot called Robonaut 2.  “The RoboGlove can reduce the amount of force that a worker needs to exert when operating a tool for an extended time or with repetitive motions,” says GM’s Global Manufacturing Engineering VP. Once the production version of the glove is ready, GM announced that it will be the first manufacturing customer to adopt the concept in the US. In addition to manufacturing, GM believes the technology can be adapted for health care and other industrial applications.

Classroom discussion questions:

  1. What else is being automated in GM and other car maker plants?
  2. Identify some health care applications for the RoboGlove.
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