Monday, April 28, 2014

Everything You Need to Know About Terrifying, Wonderful Robotic Snakes

The technology can be used for saving lives, cleaning oceans, and scaring your friends.


Last month, Medrobotics, a corporation associated with Carnegie Mellon University, announced that it will start marketing robotic snakes to surgeons in Europe. These "snakes," when fed down a patient's throat, can help doctors access hard-to-reach locations within the human body during head and neck surgery, leading to faster recovery times.

But this is hardly the only use for robotic snakes, which swim, slither, crawl, and climb much like the real thing. For the past few years, researchers at labs around the world have been coming up with innovative new ways to put these cool (and terrifying!) robots to use. Here's what you need to know:

Who made the first robotic snakes?

Howie Choset, a robotics professor at Carnegie Mellon, is widely credited with fathering the robotic snake. He cofounded the company that's making the surgical robot snake, and he told the Huffington Post last year that, in fact, he's "afraid of snakes," but he notes that his snake robots are "nice and friendly."

How do robotic snakes move?

According to the Biorobotics Lab at Carnegie Mellon, there are at least 10 main "gaits" robotic snakes perform, including sidewinding, corkscrewing, rolling, swimming, pole climbing, and cornering. The researchers say that they have been able to mimic all "biological gaits" found in snakes, and in some cases, develop those that "go beyond biological capability." Researchers also develop gaits for specific tasks, such as "stairclimbing, gap crossing, reaching into a hole in a wall [and] railroad track crossing." Here is a video of a robotic snake moving up a pole:
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