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PhoSnake robots can use their many internal degrees of freedom to thread through tightly packed volumes accessing locations that people, dogs, and machinery otherwise cannot reach.

Moreover, these highly articulated devices can perform a variety of locomotion capabilities that go beyond the capabilities of conventional wheeled and the recently developed legged robots. The true power of these devices is that they are versatile.

One of these robots, named Snakebot, has now added swimming to its competencies, and it may have defense applications. 

The robot developed by Carnegie Mellon University robotics professor Howie Choset and systems scientist Matt Travers consists of several actuated joints that work together to produce a range of motions. Snakebot can stand slither, roll, stand up to pull itself over obstacles, and climb a variety of objects and surfaces. 

Snakebot helped search through the rubble for survivors after a major Mexico City earthquake. Travers led a team to Mexico City in 2017 to use robot snakes in a search-and-rescue mission after the earthquake.

Swimming is a new trick, and it adds impressive utility to a simple yet surprisingly capable modular design. The team tested the new Hardened Underwater Modular Robot Snake (HUMRS) in a university pool recently, directing the robot through an underwater obstacle course of hoops.

The robot may have defense applications. It was developed under a grant from the Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing (ARM) Institute to help the Navy US inspect ships, submarines, and underwater infrastructure for damage or as part of routine maintenance. Currently that’s done by divers or delayed until ships can reach a dry dock, both of which involve substantial infrastructure, time, and expenses.

According to zdnet.com, the robot offers dual-use advantages. In addition to search and rescue and defense, commercial Infrastructure inspection has been a major area of development and deployment for robots, which have found ready adopters among customers like the oil and gas industry, for example.

The robot could inspect underwater pipes for damage or blockages, assess offshore oil rigs, or check the integrity of a tank while it is filled with liquid.