Wearable robots are designed to work with humans and improve performance –
By Patricia Beech –
NASA has given a whole other meaning to “lending a helping hand”.
Scientist and techs from the Johnson Space Center in Houston recently visited the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion plant in Piketon to present one of the latest advances in robotic technology, the RoboGlove. The glove is basically a wearable robot featuring an exo-muscular design that includes four sensors in the fingertips which can be fine-tuned to the individual user.
Kim Browning of Peebles, a RadCon Tech at the plant had the opportunity to try out the glove. “It was amazing,” Browning said. “As you grab something, the glove increases your grip strength, and when you want to release, you just relax your hand.”
The RoboGlove is designed not only to increase grip, but also to prevent arm fatigue and problems associated with repetitive motion such as carpal tunnel.
The robotic demonstrations were part of the Department of Energy’s “Science of Safety” workshops. During the event, Browning and other personnel at the Portsmouth plant partnered with expert roboticists and researchers from universities, private industry and non-profit research organizations. “It was a collaboration of science and health and safety personnel to work more effectively and get the job done safely, and in a timely manner,” said Browning.
The event included 12 demonstrations from participating universities, National Laboratories, other government agencies and industrial research organizations. Members of USW Local 689 participated in the demonstrations and provided extremely useful feedback to the developers.
In addition to the robotic glove, Browning and her co-workers got a close up inspection of “FirstLook” and “PackBot” robots. The FirstLook robots are designed for rugged use and can perform a visual inspection of an area and communicate with one another by radio. In unknown and potentially dangerous emergency situations, the FirstLook provides information from greater distances, thereby ensuring the safety of responding personnel. The PackBot, built by Endeavor Robotics senses chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosive devices. It also provides HazMat detection and mapping, and has been battle-tested by the military.
Browning admits she had some reservations about meeting with the NASA techs. “We weren’t sure how well they’d communicate with us,” she said. “But, they listened to our ideas because they want to know how their products should be adapted to work in our situation at the Portsmouth plant.”