Slithering Success: The Robotic Snake

Posted on December 5, 2011

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Made of steel and wire ropes that are like muscles in our body, an invention can now “reach the unreachable” says its UK inventors, OC Robotics.

This development is a robotic snake that is able to slither into limited spaces and tackle tasks that are too difficult for humans. In 2001, in Bristol, England, UK inventors began their first prototype of this robot. Earlier this year, they “demonstrated a two and a half meter snake-arm fitted with swabbing, scooping and radiological probe tools to Sellafield, the UK’s primary nuclear decommissioning company,” said Phil Reeve, head of strategy and technical institute for Sellafield.

The Snake Robot

The initial intentions of the robot were to save millions of dollars and that is what Reeves is hoping it will do. But he also thinks there are more important things that it will be able to do.

“If we can reduce the number of times that somebody has to put on a plastic suit in hazardous environments then there’s a huge benefit in that which goes beyond (money),” Reeve said.

Rob Buckingham, the managing director of this project, said that the robot will not completely replace human workers, “but they are working much more safely. That’s what we’ve seen in the nuclear sector.”

The snakes are delivery mechanisms in themselves, for which a large range of tools can be positioned to the tip, according to Buckingham.

Video cameras, lights, welding, cutting, gripping and swabbing gear are just a few of the tools OC Robotics has built; they can all be fitted to the snake’s hollow core. The arm and tools are both controlled by a human operating from a computer screen and a video game’s control pad.

Buckingham is hopeful that the company can eventually help with the cleanup operation at the suffering Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan. A proposal has been made he says, but a reply hasn’t been received yet.

Meanwhile, other industrial partners are wanted. Aviation and motor vehicle industries are looking at the possible ways the robot could aid the inspection and manufacturing processes.

Doctors and patients may also benefit from the robot. OC Robotics is working on a snake-arm that possibly will be able to perform surgeries in which internal organs can be repaired without making any incisions.

“Our prototype signals a direction of travel and is a milestone towards exploring a new surgical paradigm,” Buckingham said.

 

Reported by Kelsey Hernandez

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