I was watching a documentary recently on the development of space suits, both of IVA and EVA. The program made it clear that the most difficult thing was the development of the gloves.

EVA Gloves

The complexities involve the need to be airtight but still be able to feel tactile sensation, strong enough to withstand the rigors of, not only space, but manual labor while still being maneuverable to perform delicate technical operations.

My first thought was to seal the hands in a tube and control "robot hands" via a controller. That way the strength and dexterity can be increased.

It seems like robotic hands are a thing

robot hands

This would also protect the gloves from possible punctures.

Is this a viable idea? Has it been considered before?

  • $\begingroup$ Robohands may fail - both EVAs will be scratched as a result. "Use the Force, Luke" $\endgroup$ Oct 26 '15 at 7:33
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    $\begingroup$ It does not look like the robot hands in the pictures existed at the time, in which case you are arguing apples with oranges. $\endgroup$
    – user10509
    Oct 26 '15 at 12:43
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    $\begingroup$ Because millions and millions of years of evolution have developed a hand so effective that nobody has come up with anything better as yet. $\endgroup$
    – GdD
    Oct 26 '15 at 14:42
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    $\begingroup$ The robotic hands may have the same flexiblity and mobility as natural hands, but the sensibilty is nothing compared with human hands. But if you count all these joints and independent muscles as well as the numerous touch sensitive nerves ends it is impossible to build a robotic equivalent. $\endgroup$
    – Uwe
    Jan 10 '17 at 12:35
  • $\begingroup$ plus these robotic hands would cold-weld into solid sculptures the moment they are exposed to vacuum. Making mechanisms this complex and vacuum-proof is no trite matter. $\endgroup$
    – SF.
    Jan 20 '17 at 7:04

The Apollo program involved pretty heavy investigations into spacesuit designs since walking around on the Moon was obviously a lot more demanding than sitting in a capsule or even EVAs. Check out this Moon Machines episode if you are interested. Some of the concepts that were considered included hard-shell suits like those used for deep ocean dives, and those typically have the type of hands you describe -- although they are more like a simple claw.

enter image description here

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    $\begingroup$ That design, of course, also tries to solve a very different problem: external pressure (the weight of the surrounding water acting on the outside of the suit trying to get in) versus internal pressure (the pressure of the inside air acting on the inside of the suit trying to get out). $\endgroup$
    – user
    Oct 27 '15 at 10:58
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    $\begingroup$ Of course, different problems but the same solution. $\endgroup$ Oct 27 '15 at 17:50

The answer to your headline question is that gloves with fingers have been used so far because remote-controlled robot hands with good tactile feedback are still an unsolved problem even now. Force-feedback mechanisms are expensive and tricky to get right, and they can be dangerous if the motors you use to transmit the force are too strong. Creating a way to transmit the feeling of, say, an edge to a person's fingertips is still more challenging.

On the manipulator end, there are issues of power, complexity, and reliability to consider. Parallel to the problem of synthesizing the feeling of an edge on the user's fingers, is the problem of developing an appropriate array of sensors on the manipulator end. Those images you showed are, I'm pretty sure, research prototypes.

You could even make the case that, once you have solved the problem of remote manipulators, it no longer makes sense to put the person in a space suit at all. That is not quite true, since balance and walking are still issues, for instance. But the full telepresence robot requires roughly the same overall level of technical prowess as the hands alone, if you imagine research going on in parallel in different areas.


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