The many uses of robot snakes

A robot snake -- just like the name suggests -- is a long, segmented metal rig. When you toss it, it automatically wraps around whatever it hits.

What this country needs is a good robot snake, right?

A robot snake -- just like the name suggests -- is a long, segmented metal rig. When you toss it, it automatically wraps around whatever it hits. If the snake metaphor bugs you, think of it as a robot grappling hook that can also shimmy up poles. 

Howard Choset, a professor at the Robots Institute at Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh which developed the snake, calls it "perching behavior."

"We through the robot in the air, we have a smart way of processing the sensors, and then on impact we can then command the robot curl around whatever it just hit," explains Choset.

Here's just one of the many applications for a snake robot that likes to hug things. A firefighter doing search and rescue might throw one over a wall of flame. But Howie Choset's team is thinking bigger.

"It is worth noting that the basic science behind that capability will apply to other mechanisms, not just flying snake robots," says Choset. "We have some ideas on how to control helicopters, how to better control satellites -- anything that has to orient and fly at the same time."

These things are formally called "hyper-redundant mechanisms," a class that also includes not just snakes but elephant nose robots and monkey tail robots. Click on the audio player above to hear more about robotic snake applications.

See the robot snake in action in the video below:

Snake Robot Perching

 

About the author

David Brancaccio is the host of Marketplace Morning Report. Follow David on Twitter @DavidBrancaccio

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