Revolutionary Snake-Inspired Robot Can Move and Manipulate Objects

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Snake-inspired robots have many advantages over conventional wheeled or legged ones, like adapting the shape of their body, entering narrow spaces and moving freely in environments that are inaccessible to humans and other robots. However, they lack a skill that most other robots have, which is handling and picking up objects, significantly limiting their real-world applications.

A team of researchers from Northeastern University recently developed an approach that allows snake-like robots to both move and manipulate objects. The approach was first implemented on the COBRA robotic platform that was developed by students as a way to explore alternative locomotion capabilities.

Adarsh Salagame, a Ph.D. student at Northwestern University and part of the team that developed the COBRA, shares that in addition to working on the robot’s locomotion capabilities, they also explored the possibility of enhancing the robot’s object manipulation skills.

“To make the COBRA robot even more functional and versatile, expanding its applications to areas beyond those tackled by traditional robots, we came upon this idea of object loco-manipulation, which entails locomotion and manipulation together,” explained Salagame.

According to Interesting Engineering, the COBRA robot has a gripper mechanism integrated into its head that is designed to assist it during a specific locomotion mode called tumbling. While the robot is tumbling, its head and tail latch together to form a wheel-like structure, thus allowing it to passively roll down a slope at high speeds.

Salagame further explained that the team repurposed the robot’s gripper to latch into a box, pick it up and move it to a different location, enabling it to both dexterously manipulate a box and move around in confined spaces, slopes, or areas where standard robots would not be able to operate.

The researchers have so far used their approach to study the interaction of the COBRA robot with both the ground and a box, and share that in the future they plan to further test their approach on more versatile loco-manipulation tasks. They reportedly plan on adding a sensor suite on board the COBRA with a camera and use it to allow the robot to identify the box, pick it up and move it to different locations, thus potentially tackling interesting tasks that involve high-level planning.