April 24 - German engineering firm, Festo, has developed a mechanical exo-skeleton that can be worn like a glove to increase productivity for factory workers or help in the rehabilitation of stroke patients. The company is well known for its innovative automating technologies and says ExoHand is attracting attention at this year's Hanover Trade Fair. Jim Drury reports.
Worn like a glove, the ExoHand is designed to double the gripping power of the hand that's wearing it. German automation company Festo says it could make factory work more efficient and help stroke sufferers use their hands again. For visitors to this week's Hanover Trade Fair, the ExoHand has been a highlight. According to Festo spokesman Heinrich Frontzek, it's an intriguing example of what future automation will look like. SOUNDBITE (German) HEINRICH FRONTZEK, SPOKESMAN FOR FESTO, SAYING: "First of all the ExoHand is a glove which one slips into. And at the back of the glove there is a special power booster built in (the glove). That is done with little air cylinders that give power to every single finger through pressured air that is blown into it. Through that we can reach a doubling of the grip force." The key to the technology is air pressure. Sensors in the glove detect finger movement and send instructions via a computer algorithm to eight pneumatic actuators that move the mechanical fingers. Frontzek says the fingers and thumb can be opened and closed with the same degree of precision as a human's, giving the ExoHand multiple uses. SOUNDBITE (German) HEINRICH FRONTZEK, SPOKESMAN FOR FESTO, SAYING: "The ExoHand was created in order to assist the demographic change in society, people are getting older, and the ExoHand can be used as a power booster in the work process." Principally, Festo sees factory assembly lines as the ideal environment for the ExoHand. But the company says that when connected to a brain-computer interface, the hand can also help stroke patients suffering from paralysis to regenerate the damaged connection between the hand and the brain. Each ExoHand is customised to fit, using a 3D scan of the wearer's hand....gripping technology for an automated future. Jim Drury, Reuters