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A CMU press release (PDF format) describes a recent field test of CMU’s modular snake robot in which it navigates inside an Austrian nuclear power plant. The robot moved through pipes, open valves, and inside various types of vessels. The Zwentendorf nuclear power plant was built in the 1970s but never made operational and lacks any radioactive material, making it ideal for testing and training purposes. As this was the first field deployment test, the robots was limited to a maximum range of 60 feet but will make longer excursions on future tests. From the press release:
“Our robot can go places people can’t, particularly in areas of power plants that are radioactively contaminated,” Choset said. “It can go up and around multiple bends, something you can’t do with a conventional borescope, a flexible tube that can only be pushed through a pipe like a wet noodle”
The robot is 37 inches long, made up of 16 modules that have two half-joints each, giving the robot a total of 16 degrees of freedom. It can emulate the gaits of a natural snakes but can also configure itself in unique ways not possible for a biological snake. The snake bot relies on SLAM to assist it with navigation and carries a video camera and other sensors that allow it provide gravity-compensated video that’s always right-side-up. You can see more photos on the press release media page. A more detailed report (PDF format) of the field test is also available. Read on for video of the snake bot in action.