“Biologically-inspired” robot snake could save lives.

An autonomous adaptable robot snake probably sounds like the subject of a sci-fi horror film for most people but to the bio-robotics department at Carnegie Mellon University, it’s the future of search and rescue.

The team’s versatile serpentine creation lacks quite a few of the features traditionally associated with snakes such a forked tongue, fangs, or even a mouth. Then again, according to Wired, the robot snake was not originally intended to resemble its real-life counterpart. It was actually designed in response to a need for greater sensitivity in automated assembly robots in factories. The Carnegie Mellon bio-robotics team simply looked to nature for inspiration and decided that something which could adopt the flexibility and control of a snake’s body would perhaps be ideal.

Carnegie Mellon Snake robot

This impressive robot can bend and rotate several different parts of its body independently. What’s more, it can find its way around all sorts of obstacles by sensing pressure on different parts of its body. This allows it to navigate itself in dark conditions, though it does also have a light and live video feed and can be controlled remotely by a human pilot. The robot snake was used earlier this year to aid rescue workers in the aftermath of the 7.1 magnitude earthquake which damaged much of Mexico City in September. While it’s still early stages, rescue workers on the scene reportedly showed interest in using similar equipment in the future and with more testing, the possibilities should only grow.

Of course, there are many other applications for this type of technology. With a small, high-definition camera and the ability to manoeuvre and reach places that people and other machines can’t get to, this machine could be used to obtain documentary footage of underground animals in their natural habitat. It could also potentially be used for surveillance and security technology, though a security camera that travels about at random might not be the most reliant security device. As with drones and all forms of video technology, there is great potential for how this tool could be used. Its value in search and rescue seems to have been proven. Only time will tell what else this robot snake will be capable of.

Ronan Daly

Ronan Daly is a staff writer for My Good Planet who specialises in Technology and Science. With a Masters Degree in English, and over a decade's experience as a teacher and writer, Ronan has brought a breezy, learned style to My Good Planet, making occasionally complex material accessible and understandable to all.

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