Snakes can creep and they can crawl, but they're not very good at defusing bombs or going on search-and-rescue missions. Snake robots, however, might be a different story.
In a project called the Robotic Tentacle Manipulator, engineers at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory are developing snake-like autonomous robots that can go into dangerous situations in place of live soldiers to aid in search and rescue missions and to inspect potential threats from Improvised Explosive Devices, or IEDs.
That type of explosive has been a major source of headaches for the military in Iraq and Afghanistan, which at times has been responsible for half of U.S. military deaths in the region. Instead of sending soldiers into harm's way to find and deactivate these explosives, snake robots would do the job.
These snake robots are equipped with electronic sensors, laser detection and ranging called LADAR, which renders 3-D images of object shapes and physical properties. Touch sensitive sensor allows the bot to feel, balance and rotate objects.
Such robots have several advantages over other kinds of robots because:
- They are scalable, meaning they can be built big or small.
- They can travel over rough terrain or climb stairs. One of the researchers, Derek Schererer, says in a press release, "Consider that snakes push off rocks or roots to propel their bodies. We are using this same concept in development."
- Several snakes in one area can work as a team to scan a room or manipulate an object.
- And they may be able to solve the persistent "opening a door" problem, which is exactly what it sounds like: robots can't open doors. But high levels of articulation in the snake robot could prove to be effective for grasping and rotating different types of door handles.
Autonomous robots being able to communicate with each other is a major area of research. I just wrote about how researchers are developing underwater robots that can communicate with each other to accomplish a single mission.