Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have developed an articulated, snakelike robot that could one day maneuver and navigate through complex environments, including the rubble and debris left after earthquakes, bombings, and other disasters. They modeled their robot after the sandfish lizard, a reptile that can “swim” through sand, thanks, they thought, to its wedge-shaped head.
To test that theory, researchers added a wedge-shaped head to their robot and actuators that let them control its inclination, or vertical tilt. The body of the robot consists of seven articulated segments powered by servomotors. All these parts are packed in a latex sock and wrapped in a spandex tube. For test runs, the robot was submerged in a test chamber filled with small plastic balls that replicate a complex, granular environment.
After several tries, the engineers found they could make the robot “swim” up, down, or horizontally through the spheres by changing the angle of the head. They now plan to investigate strategies of head movement to find the best way to travel through sand. Next will come tests of the robot’s ability to maneuver through material similar to debris found after natural disasters and bombings.