Like a game Snake come to life, a new robot being developed at Stanford grows like a vine and has the ability to weave through tight spaces to provide applications from disaster relief to simplifying construction projects.
The main idea behind the robot is uncomplicated; the “snake” is a tube of soft thin plastic that is folded inside itself. As the material is forced out, either pneumatically or hydraulically, the robot grows longer. According to Stanford, the robot’s design is so useful because the tip moves and results in growth while the body remains stationary, making it incredibly difficult for the robot to become stuck.
“The body can be stuck to the environment or jammed between rocks, but that doesn’t stop the robot because the tip can continue to progress as new material is added to the end,” says Elliot Hawkes, a visiting Assistant Professor from the University of California, Santa Barbara in a Stanford article on the robot.
As the robot grows, it can pull cables along, which means it could be used in the construction industry to help wire new and renovated buildings by traveling in the walls, floors, or ceilings. The robot can make turns via a control system that differentially inflates the body and a software system bases direction decisions on images received from a camera at the tip, so pipes or other obstacles already located in the wall, ceiling, or floor space become non-issues.
Other applications include scaling the robot up for search and rescue operations, growing vertically to act as an antenna, or being used to deliver materials, such as water, to hard to reach places.
The robot is detailed in a Science Robotics paper published on June 19.