Snake Robot Features Programmable Skin

A little more than a year ago, researchers from Harvard University’s Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences debuted a robot that used friction-assisted locomotion — that is, it moved like a snake.

Engineers cut a flat, plastic sheet in a process inspired by the Japanese paper art technique known as kirigami. The small cuts resulted in a soft robotic skin that can grip the ground much like a snake would.

The accompanying footage of a small plastic robot slithering along a sidewalk was a bit creepy, even for those who aren’t deathly afraid of snakes, but engineers said snake-like movements could provide robots with some of the advantages provided to our legless, reptilian friends: namely, the ability to easily fit into tight spaces at often unexpected speeds.

Harvard researchers recently detailed the next generation of the robot with a programmable kirigami shell to control which plastic folds pop up — allowing the snake to make faster and more precise movements.

Eventually, researchers hope future generations of the snake robot, complete with smart skins or other responsive surfaces, could be used in exploratory, search and rescue, inspection or even medical capacities. Unfortunately, the latest announcement didn’t show off the new and improved snake robot in the wild, so it looks like we’ll just have to use our imaginations. 

More in Manufacturing