Although it seems like robots modeled after snakes and worms could be used for a wide variety of applications, the majority are designed for only two uses.
Many are created as rescue robots -- for detecting danger or victims or for taking supplies to survivors. Their shape, size, and locomotion style give them access to places people can't or shouldn't go, such as collapsed buildings and nuclear reactors that are damaged or being decommissioned.
The other main use for snake and worm robots is in medical applications. Skinny, snaky tubes are just right for inserting into blood vessels or abdominal cavities to assist in minimally invasive surgery. Or they can go exploring to locate problems such as tumors and send back data about size and location.
Click the image below to see 10 examples of these writhing robots.
The Slim Slime Robot from the Tokyo Institute of Technology's Hirose Fukushima Lab is a pneumatically driven active cord mechanism. It is used to inspect pipes in chemical laboratories or nuclear plants, detect unexploded mines, and help first responders find victims in collapsed buildings. A series of six connected modules are driven by pneumatic actuators. Compressed air is forced from the main tube of each module into that module's bellows, or flexible pneumatic actuators, which are located along the main tube's length. The Slim Slime can creep like a snake, make pivoting turns, roll laterally, and move with a pedal-like motion that emulates snails and limpets. Its total length is 730-1,120mm (28.7-44 inches). It weighs 12kg (26.4 pounds), and its top speed is about 60mm (2.36 inches) per second. (Source: Hirose Fukushima Lab)
Snakes are just cool. Of course, since I live in North America I don't really have any to be especially afraid of. There are only a few venomous snakes, and it's unlikely that a bite would be fatal in any case. If I lived in Australia, where Every Other Stinking Thing You Meet wants to kill you -- and can -- it would be different. The Common Brown snake (so called because it is dirt colored and very common) is the fifth most lethal snake on the planet. I don't even want to VISIT.
Spiders, by and large, are fun. I think the orb weavers and garden spiders are gorgeous. They have such interesting patterns, and they make great inroads on the flying-pest population. Wolf spiders are great to have around outside. And the little jewel-like jumping spiders are fun to play with. They tickle the hairs on the backs of my fingers. Black Widows and I have an understanding: we leave each other alone. I actually encourage them to nest under the house, since they are swift death to roaches and I prefer biological warfare over bug bombs. If they get in the house, I just move 'em back to the crawlspace.
Those brown, spindly spiders, though? They die. Period. They are toxic to humans and basically have no redeeming features, prefering to hide where you are going to put your hands or feet, and bite with little provocation.
Ken, interesting point about fear of snakes. Actually, only some people fear them. I'm not one of them. But spiders absolutely creep me out, and not everyone has that fear either. Some people think it's like a gene allele: you either fear one or the other, but not both.
My kid (thus I) had snakes as 'pets', but it never occurred to me that one might some day get the paper for me!
That said, a 'fear' of snakes is pretty strong and innate in the general population, and I admit to a few internal shudders when looking at these photos.
Real snake locomotion is trully wondrous. I've seen them go right up the trunk of a tree, literally 'look ma, no hands!'. Amazing. I truly admire anyone attempting to mimic it mechanically, they have their work cut out for them.
robatnorcross, I had a similar thought, although I'm not afraid of snakes--unless they're venomous, that is. This one's "skin" pattern is camouflage, but it looks a lot like some venomous western rattlers I've seen. Even without fear of snakes, this would still give one pause if you were trapped and couldn't move.
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