Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University are ahead of the game when it comes to developing robots that can utilize their many internal degrees of freedom to access geographic locations that are otherwise inaccessible to humans and less versatile machines.

The result is the snakebot, a highly articulated robot that is capable of performing a variety of locomotive movements that surpass the capabilities of many of the most recently developed robots, which have to rely on legs or wheels to get from A to B.

The snakebot can manoeuver in a variety of ways including crawling, climbing and even swimming. These abilities are due to a series of accelerometers embedded in the robot’s body. When snakebot strikes an object it is able to recognize a sudden halt in momentum and use its sophisticated computer programming to wrap itself around the object it struck. This means snakebot can be thrown at a target from a safe distance and can then explore and surveil and inaccessible terrain, such as was demonstrated in a nuclear power plant in Austria.

On the search and rescue side, the robotic snake can extend the use and increase the safety of rescue workers in situations such as chemical leaks, archeological digs, war zones, collapsed buildings and mine shafts.

Snakebot’s potential applications don’t stop there researchers at Carnegie Mellon are working on developing a mini robot snake that is able to assist with minimally invasive heart surgery. The robot would enter the patient’s chest through the solar plexus, allowing access to the heart without damaging nearby ribs. For the patient, this means faster recovery time, reduced risks and lower costs.

The research is currently being funded by the U.S. Army Research Lab, though researchers on the project are unwilling to reveal the Army’s objectives for the robot snakes.

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