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Rescue robots that mimic snake movement

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'Scalybot' - the next generation in flexible robotics.

Animals, from snakes or dogs to butterflies, remain a constant source of inspiration for robotics researchers. If you are not designing a robot fit only for manufacturing industries and heavy-duty tasks, then other elements may be required -- such as the ability to perform delicate tasks, the possession of flexibility, or even the means to mimic an insect in flight.

In the same manner that Harvard researchers have studied and taken inspiration from the form of a snake to make 'paper' robotsInside Science reports that Hamid Marvi, a graduate of mechanical engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, is taking a closer look at a snake's use of friction in order to create more effective 'rescue' robot designs.

Without friction, snakes find it difficult to move efficiently. However, causing this friction is also the main source of energy loss that snakes cope with, and so scales have to perform two types of task -- create enough friction to allow movement, but also to perform efficiently in order to conserve valuable energy resources.

As such, snakes will actively adjust their levels of friction by altering the angles between skin and surface -- giving them as much friction as they require without losing excess energy.

This kind of movement also allows the snake to cling on to various surfaces efficiently -- and that kind of ability for robots designed to assist in rescue operations would certainly be a useful feature.

This friction is made possible due to the texture of a scale, and it is this concept that the researchers have chosen to explore further.

Based on these ideas, Marvi and the team have created 'Scalybot' -- a robot inspired by snakes in order to climb inclined planes. By designing 'teeth' that run across the bottom of its body, the teeth can rise or fall in order to navigate a plane -- acting like snake scales by doing so.

If a robot is able to maintain this kind of flexible movement, then it is possible that in the future these designs could assist in rescue operations, or be able to perform tasks in areas that humans would find it difficult to navigate in.

According to Inside Science, after building the first prototype model and presenting it at a meeting of the American Physical Society in Boston, a more advanced model called Scalybot2 has been developed -- which contains an acceleration sensor to monitor movement, and its scales have also been upgraded. The latest model has more developed capabilities in which to choose the 'best' angle to grip a surface properly.

(via Inside Science)

Image credit: Michael Gil

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Charlie Osborne

Contributing Editor

Charlie Osborne is a freelance journalist and photographer based in London. In addition to SmartPlanet, she also writes for business technology website ZDNet and consumer technology site CNET. She holds a degree in medical anthropology from the University of Kent. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure