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)
Everything dates everyone, doesn't it? But I'm with you--I can imagine an engineer looking at Slinky's movements and wondering how to motorize and automate them. First there's a design that uses a helical shape, gravity, and momentum, and then the big jump to motors.
Exactly! That was my first thought, too! I guess that dates us, doesn't it? But it is interesting to see how the movement of that simple toy was a precursor for what's being done in robotics...and that toy moved simply on design alone without actuators. I guess you never know where inspiration will come from or how these things evolve.
Applied Research Associates has delivered several of its Pointman Tactical Robots to the CBP in Tucson, which the agency is using to explore drainage tunnels that run between Nogales, Ariz., and Nogales, Mexico. These tunnels are out of sight from border surveillance and are increasingly being used for illegal activity.