Robot Snakes Not Out of Joint in Hard-to-Reach Places


November 9, 2002

Someday they may peer cautiously around dangerous street corners on urban battlefields or slither into the rubble of collapsed buildings to search for survivors. They may be sent below to inspect damage to a ship during a sea battle. Some may even climb up the sides of buildings and take a peek into a window nobody else can reach. Thanks to improvements in joint design and some heavy-duty number crunching, robot makers are turning out snakelike machines that are capable of going places wheels and feet can't begin to negotiate. "With their enhanced flexibility and 'reach' ability in convoluted environments, serpentine robots make sense," said Howie Choset, Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering and ECE. The Office of Naval Research and the Department of Energy both are putting money into Choset's research. The Energy Department recently approved an $800,000 grant to develop a 10-joint, 4-foot snake robot that could carry radiation-sensing instruments. The Office of Naval Research has spent around $250,000 on his work since 1997. (Summary of Cox News Services' article, from Carnegie Mellon Media Coverage. Photo Courtesy of Ken Andreyo and the Carnegie Mellon Magazine, Spring 2002. The snake robot is on loan from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA.)

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Howie Choset