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The snake has long been one of the most compelling demos out of Carnegie Mellon’s robotics lab. Inspired by the biblical reptile of the same name, its long, skinny build makes it perfect for squeezing into tight spaces, guided by the camera embedded in its head. It can wind around rubble and coil around and climb poles for a better view — all in all, a pretty impressive piece of engineering. The robot has been deployed in a wide range of locations, from the Pyramids of Giza, to an abandoned power plant in Austria, to the sewers back home in Pittsburgh.
CMU’s Biorobotics Lab started work on the project around a decade ago, producing its first viable robotic snake two years later. Since then, a small handful of companies have been working on commercial applications for the reptilian robot, focused mainly on search and rescue missions deployed in places people can’t reach. But for the school, the project has been a jumping off for future robotic exploration.
Versions - Force - Snake - Object - Order
More recent versions have brought force sensing to the snake, so it can determine how tightly it needs to wrap around an object in order to cling on, eliminating the need for roboticists to preprogram it based on conditions. In order to do so, the team turned to a more modular design for the robot, with interchangeable segments that can be added and subtracted to change the length of the robot.
It’s part of a larger trend toward modularity that has grown in popularity in the robotics community of the past decade, creating systems that are much more adaptable to wide variety of needs. It’s sort of like robotic Legos, and in fact, the team that helped the snake go modular recently spun off to form HEBI, a startup that develops plug and play robotic actuators...
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