The snake-inspired soft robot could help gather soil samples and do underground installations with ease.
Robots are good at exploring land, sea, sky, and space, but one of the difficult environments to navigate is through the ground. Engineers at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) and Georgia Institute of Technology have now developed snake-like robots that use various methods to dig soft sand and soil.
Snake, for a long time, has been an inspiration. Thanks to their variety of movements. They have been used to explore environments such as Dunes, Undersea, pipe, Abolished nuclear power plant, etc.
The biggest barrier here is that even granular materials like sand and soil have far more resistance than water and air. However, the UCSB and Georgia Institute of Technology teams have developed robots that can tackle the problem in various ways.
The new design is a soft robot like a vine; it moves by “growing” from its tip, useful for underground adventures. Friction is much lower than if there is movement, as the tip is the only moving part. To make the robot even easier to move, it is attached to a device at the growing tip of the robot, blowing air in front of the robot, pushing sand away, and clearing the path.
But there is a challenge. While moving horizontally in the sand, the robot tended to rise until it appeared on the surface of the water. This is basic physics. There is much less pressure from the small amount of sand above the robot than the compressed sand below the robot. To counter this, the team also forced the robot to shoot air downwards to reduce its friction. Add a wedge to the front and tunneling the sandfish also helped to cut the road.
The end result is a small robot that can move dry granular media relatively easily. You can avoid obstacles by twisting and turning like a snake and ascending to the other side.
As Daniel Goldman, Dunn Family Professor of Physics at Georgia Tech, clarified, the “development of a robot with such capabilities can inspire new animal studies as well as point to new phenomena in the physics of granular substrates.”
How the team developed its snake robot
Fortunately for the team, it had a lead over others due to the already held soft robot. It was the toughest part to conceive as it is growing from the tip just like a vine. Added another motor to the device to shed away the sand particles so that the robot does not rise skywards.
Also, planted a wedge in the head of the device to make its way through the sand in a more efficient way. Sandfish lizards do it all the time, which is exactly where these robots take their idea from.
To put it in a nutshell, the snake would look like a sock puppet but trust me, and it can do way more. It could be useful for gathering soil samples or installing underground pipelines, according to the engineers.