June 16 - Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University are using snakes as a model for a series of robots that will having capabilities ranging from search and rescue operations to medical applications. Ben Gruber reports.
The robots in this lab at Carnegie Mellon University are not built to walk or talk. They're designed to slither. Howie Choset has spent the better part of the last two decades designing snake robots, machines that can mimic real snakes in nature. (SOUNDBITE) (English) HOWIE CHOSET, PROFESSOR OF ROBOTICS, CARNEGIE MELLON UNIVERSITY, SAYING: "These robots can use their joints, their degrees of freedom to thread through tightly packed volumes to get to locations that people and conventional machinery otherwise can't access." Choset says his snakebots will soon be an essential tool in both medical and search and rescue operations. The larger robots are fitted with cameras and other sensory equipment that can be controlled and accessed by an operator via a tether - giving rescue workers critical data in real time. Environments that may be hazardous to humans or rescue animals, will present no problem for Choset's snakes. (SOUNDBITE) (English) HOWIE CHOSET, PROFESSOR OF ROBOTICS, CARNEGIE MELLON UNIVERSITY, SAYING: "The rubble is a very fragile makeshift structure. You don't want to disturb it that much. The snake robot by its virtue of being minimally invasive, it will not disturb the rubble, thereby helping to ensure the safety of a victim that may be trapped inside of it." So versatile is the technology that Choset and his team also see potential for a surgical version - a smaller, minimally invasive snake robot that can target places inside the body that today, can only be reached through surgery. (SOUNDBITE) (English) HOWIE CHOSET, PROFESSOR OF ROBOTICS, CARNEGIE MELLON UNIVERSITY, SAYING: "With a surgical snake robot you can enter the body through a small incision make one turn one way and another turn another way and before you know it you are behind the heart where you can deliver a while host of therapies and diagnostics which otherwise would have required say a full sternotomy." The surgical robot is already on a path to commercialization with the search and rescue version not far behind it. Howie Choset says he's on a mission to bring serpentine robotics into the mainstream while bringing the much maligned reptile a little credit at the same time.