Search and Rescue: Just Call a Snake

Monday, January 23, 2012 @ 05:01 PM gHale


Trying to figure out the perfect design for an all-terrain robot for search-and-rescue missions is an arduous task for scientists.

The lists of “must haves” is lengthy: It must be flexible enough to move over uneven surfaces, yet not so big that it’s restricted from tight spaces. It also needs to climb slopes of varying inclines, among other things.

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Existing robots can some of these tasks, but researchers want them to do all of them, and, but the way, without overheating because of all the energy requirements. By going back to nature, researchers found what they think is the prototype animal they can mimic to handle all these vital taskssssssssss. That is right, a snake.

“By using their scales to control frictional properties, snakes are able to move large distances while exerting very little energy,” said Hamid Marvi, a Mechanical Engineering Ph.D. candidate at Georgia Tech.

While studying and videotaping the movements of 20 different species at Zoo Atlanta, Marvi developed Scalybot 2, a robot that replicates rectilinear locomotion of snakes. He unveiled the robot this month.

“During rectilinear locomotion, a snake doesn’t have to bend its body laterally to move,” Marvi said. “Snakes lift their ventral scales and pull themselves forward by sending a muscular traveling wave from head to tail. Rectilinear locomotion is very efficient and is especially useful for crawling within crevices, an invaluable benefit for search-and-rescue robots.”

Scalybot 2 can automatically change the angle of its scales when it encounters different terrains and slopes. This adjustment allows the robot to either fight or generate friction. The two-link robot ends up controlled by a remote-controlled joystick and can move forward and backward using four motors.

“Snakes are highly maligned creatures,” said Joe Mendelson, curator of herpetology at Zoo Atlanta. “I really like that Hamid’s research is showing the public that snakes can help people.”



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