NASA 'snake' may explore space
- By Paula Shaki Trimble
- Oct 09, 2000
NASA's snakebot site
NASA researchers developing new tools to explore other planets are going
back to nature.
In the future, NASA may rely on the snake's size, shape and form as
an aid to exploring other planets' terrain and performing construction tasks
Researchers at NASA's Ames Research Center are developing a snake robot,
or snakebot, that will have capabilities that wheeled rovers like the Mars
Pathfinder do not offer. The snakebot will be able to independently dig
in loose extraterrestrial soil, slither into cracks in a planet's surface
and plan routes over or around obstacles.
NASA announced Oct. 3 that it has designed a snakebot prototype to see
what capabilities it could have in the future. In the next couple of months,
NASA researchers plan to simulate the snakebot in a computer program so
they can automatically develop computer procedures to control the robot.
They will also build a second snakebot.
The snakebot is modeled after the polybot developed at Xerox Palo Alto
Research Center in California, but it contains different electronics. NASA's
initial test snake has a wire that carries communications and power to and
from the mechanical snake's computer brain.
In the Serpentine Robotics Project, NASA researchers are first developing
the snakebot to be able to move along the surface in innovative ways, such
as flipping backward over low obstacles and sidewinding. In the future,
NASA will develop its ability to become a mast or grasping arm, according
to a NASA statement.
As NASA develops the second snakebot, it will work on a control system
that will enable the robot to use sensors to decide what to do. A main computer
will tell smaller computers in the snakebot's segments what plan to carry
out. The researchers also plan to write software that allows the snake to
learn from its experiences, such as how to crawl from soft to hard surfaces
and how to move over rough, rocky surfaces.
In the next few years, NASA researchers also hope to make snakebot muscles
out of artificial plastic or rubber materials that will bend when electricity
is applied to them.