Physical Science - Other

What is a Snakebot

Ashley Jones - 626815's image for:
"What is a Snakebot"
Image by: 

When one thinks of robotic snakes, giant monstrosities and evil scientists usually come to mind, not lifesaving tools of the future, but that is just the route that Howie Choset, a 37-year-old Carnegie Mellon University professor has decided to take them. He has spent years of his life developing robotic snakes for the purpose of search and rescue.

These snakes would be a powerful tool used by rescuers to find and save people who find themselves trapped in rubble after an earthquake or other such natural disaster. In recent weeks, Choset and some of his students made what he said was an industry breakthrough: enabling the articulated, remote-controlled devices to climb up and around pipes. Many top rescue officials say that these robotic snakes would make excellent tools, helping both locate and extract trapped individuals. Unfortunately, the current model has only limited mobility, and has to be lowered into fallen structure.

One of the main advantages of a robotic snake when compared to human rescue workers is that upon arrival at the scene, a robot-snake and dive straight into the building rubble to begin searching for survivors, whilst a normal rescue operations team can take upwards of ninety minutes in getting into position to actually start a rescue operation. On top of this, robotic snakes make for safer rescue operations since they move around far less rubble when moving to reach  a trapped victim then a rescue team does, posing less threat of collapsing the rubble onto the victim.

The robots are built out of lightweight aluminum or plastic, the robots are about the size of a human arm or smaller. Although these robots are semiautonomous, and can sense which direction is up, they really are only as good as the human operator who controls it. The robots, with nicknames such as "Breadstick" and "Pepperoni," have successfully inched up the insides and outsides of storm drains, negotiated large gaps between pieces of debris, and maneuvered through underbrush and fences, Choset has been quoted as saying.

Those who helped design the robots still think that Sniffer dogs will play a main role in rescue operations, but believe that these “snakebots” will prove a valuable addition to the rescue arsenal, allowing for quicker response. Stover, one of the rescue workers who dealt with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, said snake robots would have helped rescuers search flooded houses in that disaster. However, the snakebots are not ready for field work yet, and according to professor Choset, will not be for at least another five to ten years, depending on what funding is available for the project. 

More about this author: Ashley Jones - 626815

From Around the Web

  • InfoBoxCallToAction ActionArrow