A Scandinavian research institute has proposed sending robot snakes to Mars, claiming that the automated serpents could potentially outmaneuver rovers on the Red Planet.
Scientists at Norway's Foundation for Scientific and Industrial Research (SINTEF) and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology are testing a type of exploration robot modeled after the legless reptiles. The feasibility study was commissioned by the European Space Agency.
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"The snake robot could travel to cliffs and look underneath overhangs," Howie Choset, a professor of robotics at Carnegie Mellon University, told ABC News.
"It could find a crevasse, crawl down it and extract a sample, which itself could tell us how Mars evolved as a planet."
SINTEF researchers said they aren't planning to have robot snakes entirely replace rovers; rather, the two would ideally be integrated together.
"One option is to make the robot [snake] 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," researcher Aksel Transeth said in a statement.
The ESA reportedly plans to send its own rover, ExoMars, to the Red Planet in 2016 and 2018. Though NASA's Curiosity rover is still collecting data on Mars, the agency plans to send another rover in 2020.
Meanwhile, robot snake researchers in the U.S. are also looking into how the gadgets could be put to use elsewhere.
"There are a lot of challenges that we still have to address," Choset told ABC News. "We're still having a hard time figuring out how to make these robots work in bumpy and highly confined spaces here on Earth."
This isn’t the first time SINTEF has modeled a robot after a snake. The institute's "Anna Konda" is a firefighting snake robot. Here's a video of the android in action:
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