Image via CMU
Carnegie Mellon's Robotics Institute has developed modular snake robots to navigate the labyrinthine pipes, valves, nooks and crannies of power plants.
Scientists tested the snakes in the Zwentendorf nuclear power plant in Austria, and the results were postively described in a CMU press release.
The 37-inch long mechanical creatures are made up of 16 modules with joint-like features, allowing the androids to have kinetic freedom while imitating the movement of snakes (of course, these prototypes can also move in manners foreign to serpents). They can climb pipes, wriggle, and roll—and even lift their "heads" much like a cobra, a feature it uses for camera visibility.
The robots were unleashed a la Snakes On A Plane throughout the Austrian power plant to demonstrate that the machines can effectively travel through dangerous areas, such as contaminated or radioactive terrain, that humans couldn't reach, while simultaneously recording high quality footage with the attached lights and cameras. According to the press release, the robots "can go up and around multiple bends, something you can't do with a conventional borescope, a flexible tube that can only be pushed through a pipe like a wet noodle."
Video footage of the robo-snake in action
The snakes could feasibly be used for rescue or disaster response missions as well. They could travel through dilapitated buildings, contaminated homes, or unsafe mines (even your neighborhood water well—suck it, Lassie!) to scope out potential victims and get in touch with them via the snakes' speakerbox feature.
We can now add robo-snakes to the growing mechanical animalia kingdom that scientists are accruing like a cyborg Noah's Ark. Toshiba recently developed a Gazelle-like design called the Quadruped walking robot, which will inspect and explore the tsunami-ravaged TEPCO Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan. There's also the wall-scaling, gecko-inspired robot that was invented in Canada. It could only be a matter of time until we have a zoo filled with robotic animals with extremely pragamtic capabilities.