September 16, 2013
Robot Snakes On Mars
[ Watch the Video: ESA Wants To Send A Robotic Snake To Mars ]
Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
Researchers are reportedly developing a snake-like robot that could be paired up with a rover to help future explorers investigate regions that are typically inaccessible. NASA's Curiosity and Opportunity rovers have had great success helping scientists gather more data about Mars, but clunky wheels prevent the Martian vehicles from exploring nooks and crannies that may hide secrets about the Red Planet's past. A more versatile snake robot could be the key in attempting to go where no rover has gone before.
"One option is to make the robot 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."
Snake robots could help assist rovers in collecting samples to be returned back to Earth by getting into the tight spots rovers can't reach. The researchers say the rover would help navigate over large distances, while the snake robot could detach itself and crawl into the tighter spaces. A cable would connect the robot to the vehicle to help provide power, communication and a winch for emergencies.
"We are looking at several alternatives to enable a rover and a robot to work together. Since the rover has a powerful energy source, it can provide the snake robot with power through a cable extending between the rover and the robot. If the robot had to use its own batteries, it would run out of power and we would lose it," said Aksel Transeth from Norwegian robotics company SINTEF in a statement.
"The connection between the robot and the rover also means that the snake robot will be able to assist the vehicle if the latter gets stuck," says Pål Liljebäck, another researcher on the project. "In such a situation, the robot could lower itself to the ground and coil itself around a rock enabling the rover to pull itself loose by means of the cable winch, which the rover would normally use to pull the snake robot towards the rover".
ESA hired SINTEF to carry out research on how this snake robot-rover relationship could potentially work. The space agency has a new Mars mission planned for 2018 called ExoMars. This rover will be exploring the Martian surface to search for evidence of microbial life, and will be equipped to drill to a depth of six feet and collect samples that have been shielded from the harsh conditions on the surface.