Researchers from the University of Electrocommunications (Tokyo) have designed a snake robot capable of navigating tight spaces and climbing over obstacles for search and rescue operations in disaster zones. The key that allows the T2 Snake-3 to perform those tasks lies in its three-dimensional steering, which gives the robot the ability to relax its joints and then push itself from that position.
According to the team, “The operator can easily control and move the robot on uneven terrain by this method. For climbing stairs, the robot autonomously shifts its motion on stairs from head to tail at the appropriate timing because data of sensors attached to the bottom of the robot are used to trigger the motion.” The robot’s head can be equipped with a gripper as well, which enables it to pick up objects, or used to pull itself over stationary materials.
The T2 Snake-3 is outfitted with a series of passive and active wheels connected to a series of joints that actuate using 17 joint motors and 10 wheel motors. A camera is mounted on the head of the robot that the controller uses for navigation and identifying people trapped under rubble. The snake is controlled wirelessly using a joystick and an onboard computer, while a microcontroller processes data garnered from built-in sensors. Those sensors make sure the wheels are maintaining contact with the surface it’s maneuvering on; otherwise it may become inoperable.
The T2 Snake-3 robotic snake is still under development, and at present, the robot can only traverse ground and obstacles in a semi-straight line or around soft curves. The researchers are looking at ways to overcome that limitation, which would allow the robot to travel up spiral staircases and other twisted routes. They are also looking at ways to keep the robotic snake functioning in the event the wheels fail for not maintaining contact with surfaces.