Researchers want to send robotic snakes to Mars!

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

snake robot slither
The robot can move just like a snake and fit between rocks because of its small size.

Snakes are such sneaky and scaly beasts. You can find them slithering around in hot desert sands, swimming in salty ocean waters, or – in the case of Asian gliders – flying from tree to tree. I guess you can say they do a pretty good job of getting around. They’re so skilled, in fact, that researchers from the Foundation for Scientific and Industrial Research (SINTEF) want to send robot snakes to explore the planet Mars!

The SINTEF researchers have been working with snake-like robots for years, and they know sending one to Mars would be useful. Even though NASA has already sent 4 exploration rovers out to the Red Planet, there are tough terrains that the robots just can’t navigate through. Also,  tiny, tight spaces don’t allow the bulky robots to squeeze into and collect valuable data. A robotic snake, on the other hand, could easily slither in between rocks and potentially gather a priceless amount of information from the planet. If anything, it’s better than any old rover!

The SINTEF researchers won’t use the snake-like robot to replace them, though. According to researcher Aksel Transeth, “One option is to make the robot into one of the vehicle’s arms, with the ability to disconnect and reconnect itself, so that it can be lowered to the ground, where it can crawl about independently.” The researchers also envision the robotic snake attached to the bottom of a rover, where it’ll be ready to plop down at a moment’s notice.

Right now the snake-like robot is still in the early stages of research, which is being conducted for the European Space Agency. However, the researchers did promise to have more details available by the end of this year. As robotics professor Howie Choset said, “There are a lot of challenges that we still have to address. We’re still having a hard time figuring out how to make these robots work in bumpy and highly confined spaces here on Earth.” Hopefully the SINTEF scientists will have the robot ready when NASA launches the next Mars rover in 2020.

Images and video courtesy of  SINTEF and Thor Nielsen.