Japan-based HiBot developed the waterproof ACM robot, which swims.
Robots can take on all kinds of animal- and human-inspired shapes. We have cheetahs, sand fleas and fish. But if you want a robot to get into small spaces humans can't access, the snake is the way to go.
"They could be used for pipe inspection, or there's a small one to do minimally invasive surgery like a laparoscope," said Howie Choset, a professor of robotics at Carnegie Mellon University, who makes snake robots a specialty.
Snake robots have shown they can do search-and-rescue operations -- something that would have gone a long way at the recent building collapse in Bangladesh. They can also do surgery, shoot lasers, clean toxins out of water and even fight fires. Here are eight snake robots with unique skills.
Murphy is designed to search through dark and cluttered disaster zones for victims.
A Carnegie Mellon University team has developed "Murphy," a snakelike robot designed for search and rescue. The narrow, mobile robot is capable of slithering into tight spaces between blocks of rubble in a collapsed building. It has a light, a camera and a two-way microphone and speaker that allows the human controller to not only see what the snake sees but also communicate with people trapped in rubble. The robot would enter a pile of debris, crawl through the spaces and find people trapped below. A trained dog has been shown capable of carrying the robot into places where humans can't reach, dropping the robot off in the desired location.
Lasers on this snake robot cut through metal
If there's anything cooler than a shark with lasers, then it has to a snake with lasers. Researchers from OC Robotics in the U.K. have developed LaserSnake, a seven-foot-long, four-inch wide robot that shoots laser beams designed to cut metal. Such a robot is ideal for squirming into disaster zones or even decommissioned nuclear power plants that need to be broken down and disassembled.
The Heartlander robot brings the capabilities of laparoscopic surgery to cardiac surgeons.
The Heartlander is a half-inch-wide device designed to move like an inchworm over the patient's heart, entering the chest through a small incision below the sternum. This would remove the need to crack open the chest and reduce surgical risks; it would essentially bring laparoscopic surgery, already a staple for fixing bad knees, to cardiac surgeons. When it gets to its destination it can administer drugs or guide surgeons with its built-in camera to where problems lie.
This swimming robot is designed to clean toxic metals from waterways.
A team at the Fortune Institute of Technology in Taiwan built BioCleaner2, a snake robot that swims through water and uses bacteria to clean out toxic metals. The bacteria, Shewanella oneidensis, disintegrates the toxins. The chemical process of absorbing metals also generates electricity to power the robot. The mechanical creature is made of segments that can be strung together to make the robot longer for big jobs. Designer Hsiang-Han Hsu plans to launch a product in 2020.
When thrown at a pole or tree branch ModSnake immediately clings to it like some species of constrictors found in jungles.
Another creation of CMU's Biorobotics lab, Modsnake can be thrown into the air and grab onto poles, perching on them like some species of constrictors in the jungle. A set of accelerometers in its body makes it possible for the robot to tell when it has come into contact with its target. It could be a really smart grappling hook, fit for Batman to climb walls, but the Carnegie researchers see its capabilities as being useful for accessing areas that it can crawl to directly.
Anna Konda sprays water onto fires.
SINTEF, a research firm in Norway, has built Anna Konda, a snake robot that has hydraulic pumps and nozzles that shoot water from the machine's front end. The robot is designed to fight fires in small space that may be too dangerous for people.
Meshbot's flexibility makes it durable.
At the MIT robotics lab, Sangbae Kim, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering, built a robot using a mesh-like structure that moves by alternately squeezing and expanding its body, just like an earthworm. The "muscles" are made of shape-memory alloy, a metal that when heated, returns to its original shape after being bent. Its flexibility makes it durable. In fact, in lab tests, Meshbot survived getting smacked by a hammer. Robots that can handle getting hit or run over are especially important to the military, which can't have their bots going down for repairs too often.
The soft robot's power source is self-contained, allowing it to work without a tether.
At MIT, Cagdas Onal, now an assistant professor at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, designed a soft robot with a self-contained power source that allows it work without a tether. The robot uses an undulating motion to move -- instead of a rolling or inchworm-like motion -- just like real snakes do. The motion and its soft body, which is covered in a rubbery skin, allows it to squeeze into tight space that more rigid robots cannot reach.