Snake robots that can assist astronauts are being investigated by researchers at Norwegian independent research organization SINTEF as part of a project with the European Space Agency (ESA).
"Right now, the most realistic projects are looking into how snake robots can assist [International Space Station (ISS)] astronauts in maintaining their equipment," says SINTEF research manager Aksel Transeth. He raises the possibility of robots performing inspections of experiments that are stacked in shelf sections, behind which corrosion can occur.
To deal with the ISS' constant state of freefall, Transeth points to SINTEF's belief it "can design a robot that can hold on, roll itself up, and then extend its body in order to reach new contact points. Moreover, we believe that it can creep in among equipment components on the ISS and use equipment surfaces to gain traction in order to keep moving forward."
Looking ahead, ESA says snakebots could help establish a lunar colony by inspecting lava tubes where settlers could live and work. ESA also wants to study comets, with Transeth noting the lack of gravity on a comet creates a case for snakebots designed to explore the surface while keeping themselves firmly anchored.
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