London, March 5 : Scientists have developed a new snake-like robot that can push off obstacles it encounters to move forwards, which is a trick used by real snakes.
According to a report in New Scientist, the robotic snake has been developed by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim.
Though researchers have been working on snake-inspired robots for decades, they usually have wheels or treads on their body to help them move. These make it easier for a snake robot to slither forward, by converting its writhing motion into a forward slide.
But, that approach works best on smooth surfaces.
"In a collapsed building where there's a lot of rubble, for example after an earthquake, a wheeled snake would probably get stuck," said Aksel Transeth of Norwegian research organization SINTEF in Trondheim.
According to Transeth, a more versatile snake robot would move in a truly snaky way, pushing off of obstacles, such as rocks, that it encounters.
Along with his colleagues at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Transeth developed a wheelless snake robot that can do just that.
Named "Aiko", its 1.5-metre-long body is made from segments of PVC tube, with motors to bend its joints.
A virtual double of the robot that accurately models Aiko's real-life behaviour will be used to guide development of the real slithering robot.
"Other wheelless snake robots have tried to make use of obstacles, but Aiko is the first to have an accurate simulated double as well," said Transeth.
The team hopes that the simulation will let them improve Aiko more quickly, helping to reveal the forces needed for it to move most effectively.
"It's much easier to simulate on the computer than to build a snake robot and do an experiment," said Transeth.