In the earlier part of this year, Carnegie Mellon University was able to test out a modular snake-like robot at an abandoned nuclear power plant. The robot was developed by the University’s Biorobotics lab and is intended to perform inspections as well as search-and-rescue operations.
Although this is not the first ‘snake robot’, it is one of the few that has actually been put to the task of any practical testing outside of a strictly research environment. Researchers from the University were able to view well resolved images — complements their robot — of the insides of piping at the plant.
The test carried out was ideal since the plant in Austria where the test was carried out — the Zwentendorf nuclear power plant — has never actually functioned since the day it was built therefore there were no radiation concerns to worry about. Neglecting this, it has all of the infrastructure one would find in an operational plant, so the same type of tests would have been carried out anyway if it was in service.
The robot is 2 inches(5cm) in diameter and 37 inches(97cm) long and is made up of 16 joints which facilitate its snake movement mimicry. What sets it apart from other similar robots is it’s ability to traverse multiple bends due to its modular snake-like body. Utilizing the camera and LEDs on its ‘head’ it is able to provide images of piping which would simply not be obtainable by humans or even other robots. The robot can even wrap its body around cylindrical objects and climb them.
One major problem with the robot however is that it is tethered to a cable which has the dual functionality of providing power as well as instructions to the robot. This has limited the extent to which the team was able to carry out testing thus far. Regardless much progress has been made with its development and it has also participated in staged search and rescue operations where it was required to sift through rubble.
The team at the Carnegie Mellon Biorobotics lab have plans to improve this slithering tech even further, siting intentions to make it waterproof. I’m also assuming that they will eventually ditch the prohibitive cable. Plans are also in place for the possibility of a mapping functionality where the robot would map out the piping of a nuclear plant upon traversing it.
The video below offers further insight into how the robot operates. Enjoy!