Robotic snake can ‘perch’ on poles

Updated : September 24, 2013
Press release by JIE
Source: WIRED

The amazing modular snake robots of theBiorobotics Laboratory, Carnegie Mellon University, Pennsylvania, have gained a new ability; to grapple and wrap around any object they are thrown at.

The Biorobotics Lab is something of a specialist in robotic snakes. Given a snake’s lack of limbs, feet and any additional appendages, their unique take on propulsion is an ideal one to replicate in robots designed to explore hard-to-reach locations. “These highly articulated devices can coordinate their internal degrees of freedom to perform a variety of locomotion capabilities that go beyond the capabilities of conventional wheeled and the recently-developed legged robots,” reads the lab’ssite. “The true power of these devices is that they are versatile, achieving behaviours not limited to crawling, climbing, and swimming.”

One of the central missions of the lab is to develop “modsnakes” capable of “novel gaits” — not only do their robotic snakes mimic the naturally occurring movements of their biological counterparts, the modsnakes are capable of movement the humble adder can only dream of. Take “corkscrewing“, which sees the modsnake to spiral its body between two surfaces and propel itself forward, or ” pipe rolling“, a gait that sees the modsnake wrap itself around a pipe and roll along in a most unnatural fashion.

A new video from the Biorobotics Lab demonstrates the snake’s latest ability, to wrap itself around objects that it is thrown at. As the snake impacts the object, be it a pole or a tree branch, it immediately warps its entire length around the surface, gripping it securely and “perching”. Check out the video above to see it in action.

Within each module of the robotic snake is an accelerometer. The moment the modsnake stops accelerating, the modules align from nose to tail around the object. This ability could come in handy when the modsnake is deployed for scouting and reconnaissance missions, or for use in search and rescue missions, throwing it into areas that humans can’t reach.

The Biorobotics Lab has also been developing the modsnake for use in industrial inspection missions and nuclear inspection, in which its pole-traversing abilities are particularly useful. The research is supported by the US Army Research Lab’s Robotics Collaborative Technology Alliance — and while it’s possible to speculate that such a “constrictive” ability could be useful should it come up against human personnel. The modsnake would apparently be unable to constrict in a boa-fashion, as it is only able to warp around objects with enough force to hold itself in place.

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