When you think of search and rescue missions, you probably don’t think of snakes being involved, unless the person being rescued is trying to escape a snake. However, a sidewinder rattlesnake was the inspiration for the latest search and rescue robot technology. Scientists observed the snakes to learn how they maneuver up sandy slopes without sliding back down the side, a technique previously not fully understood.
The observations lead to the creation of a new robot snake that could be utilized for a variety of search and rescue missions to maneuver through terrain that would have been previously difficult to scale. The robot snake could be used for endless projects. Fox News points out that the snake would be perfect for carrying out inspections of hazardous wastes, rescue missions, or even exploring ancient pyramids. Snakelike or limbless robots are intriguing to scientists for several reasons. First, their lack of legs, wheels, or tracks means they don’t often get stuck in ruts or held up by bumps in their path. They could also be used to access areas that other bots can’t reach, or to explore places that aren’t safe for humans.The technology would allow scientists the ability to put a camera on a robot that could function in a way previously unavailable. Could we potentially see a robot snake make its way to Mars in place of the rover?
This isn’t the first time scientists have attempted to make a snake-like robot. According to the Los Angeles Times, researchers have long worked on snake-like robots, potentially useful for traversing rough terrain or entering damaged buildings in search of survivors. One such robot, built by Howie Choset, a roboticist at Carnegie Mellon University and co-author of the study, was deployed on an archaeological mission to search ancient Egyptian caves thought to hold artifacts that were thousands of years old. But the robot, called Elizabeth, slipped and pitched over on a sandy slope.
The process of perfecting the real sidewinder snakes movement is not easy. In the latest series of research, 54 trials were conducted, with each of the six snakes slithering up the sandy table nine times, three times each at varying degrees of steepness. As the snakes worked their way up the makeshift sand dune, high-speed cameras tracked their movements, taking note of exactly where their bodies came into contact with the sand as they moved upward.
The scientists were then tasked with recreating these movements with exact perfection in the robot. Scientists note that the snake robots have mutually beneficial applications for both biology and engineering. The researchers say they’re excited about the light that the robot sheds on how snakes move in real life, and about the insight the snakes provide into building a better, more agile robot.