Army enlists tentacled 'snakebots'

Posted by Emma Woollacott

The US Army is building teams of 'snakebots' to be used on search-and-rescue missions in dangerous areas.

The Robotic Tentacle Manipulator consists of several snakes in a circular array that function like a team. They can use multiple parts of their bodies to manipulate an object, scan a room or handle improvised explosive devices.

It's scalable, with the number of links on each tentacle affectingits reach, as well as its ability to crawl, swim or climb. Sensors transmit images to the soldier operating the system.

These include laser detection and ranging, LADAR, to provide 3D images of object shapes and even faces.

"The technology is leading to more than just the very tip of the snake being used in the object manipulation effect," said Derek Scherer, an Army Research Laboratory researcher.

"Consider that snakes push off rocks or roots to propel their bodies. We are using this same concept in development."

Scherer said that with increased manipulator dexterity, Soldiers can offload more tasks to the robotic platform. "When the platform is tasked with inspecting a potential IED threat, the extreme adaptability of the tentacle manipulator will allow the platform to rummage with precision," he said.

The robot's touch sensitivity allows it to balance objects and feel where forces are being applied as it rotates devices.

"It allows it to lift and reposition objects, including IEDs, for examination, and do so in a controlled fashion that is unlikely to detonate any ordnance," said Scherer. "These same capabilities would improve inspections during cargo and checkpoint missions."

The team even believes the robot could open doors - traditionally a big problem for robots.

"Solving the door problem would greatly improve indoor robot missions," Scherer said.