Greek researchers have conceived an idea of using teams of coordinated snake-like robots for remote inspection, repair, and rescue work.
Michael Sfakiotakis and Dimitris Tsakiris, researchers at Foundation for Research and Technology in Heraklion, say that they have developed a control mechanism that enables a snake-shaped robot to safely navigate through an unfamiliar environment.
The researchers say that they have tested the control mechanism on a simple, wheeled "snakebot".
They fixed two pairs of infrared sensors on the robots heads, each of which was capable of judging the distance to a nearby wall or other solid object.
The robot was also programmed with a complex set of algorithms that forced it to move its joints in response to its distance from an obstruction.
According to the researchers, the maths helped the snakebot adjusts itself until its body was equidistant from the obstacles on either side, and allowed it to slither through a corridor and turn corners without bumping into any walls.
In simulations, the same behaviour could let several robots with sensors along their body to form a team that could travel along together. The robots would simply centre themselves between their nearest neighbour and the wall.
The researchers have already shown this by forming such a team of four snakebots to work together.
Sfakiotakis and Tsakiris' work attains significance as getting snake-like robots to navigate independently has so far proven difficult for various researcher groups that are working on the technology.
Robotics researcher Rainer Worst at the Fraunhofer Institute in Germany says that teaching a snakebot to guide itself is especially difficult partly because it has a long body and partly due to the nature of its locomotion.
He says that controlling undulations is not as simple as controlling rolling.
"This is rather impressive," New Scientist quoted him as saying.