Snake robots researched locally for rescue missions

The robotic snake (Source: WOIO)
The robotic snake (Source: WOIO)

AKRON, OH (WOIO) - Snakes, people love them or hate them, but what if they could help rescue your family in a fire or in a building collapse?

A professor at the University of Akron is creating a robotic snake with a camera. It would mimic the reptile's unique movements and ability to get into tight spots that people and other animals simply can't.

"They're such fun and interesting animals, so different from everything else. There's no animal quite like a snake," says Dr. Henry Astley.

Dr. Astley has been fascinated by snakes since he can remember. He's mesmerized by their unique adaptability and versatility in movement.

"They change based on environment, side winding for sand, lateral all-purpose mode, concertina for tunnels," says Dr. Astley.

That movement is inspiring his research in Biomimicry at the University of Akron. He's mimicking the snake in robot form to get to places other robots currently can't, like in building collapses, fires, or earthquakes.

"You could send one of these in through the wreckage, find out if anyone is still alive, if there are live wires, hazardous chemicals to be aware of during a rescue attempt," says Dr. Astley.

The robot itself isn't complicated to make. This one took a couple months.

"This is a series of motors connected with wires and 3D printed parts," explains Dr. Astley.

The camera would go on the head. It could eventually be waterproof too, for help with underwater rescues or searches. The challenge now is improving battery technology.

"The robot is externally powered because motors have a substantial voltage draw," says Dr. Astley.

Henry says it will be several years before the slithering robots are ready for fire or police departments to use them. NASA is interested as well.

"Moon, mars places like that, lots and lots of sand, dust and that kind of terrain is extremely treacherous for robots," says Dr. Astley.

Dr. Astley's research started with his professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology about four years ago. Now graduated and a professor himself, Dr. Astley just came to Akron last August.

The University of Akron is known world-wide for its Biomimcry Department. A delegation from Japan just visited. They too were very interested in Henry's snake robot, specifically for earthquake damages and rescues there.

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