Robotic Snake Could Be Next Mars Explorer: How Does Norwegian Rover Inspired By Reptile Work? [VIDEO]

By Philip Ross on September 17, 2013 11:24 AM EDT

robotic snake mars
SINTEF researchers in Norway play with Wheeko, a robotic snake whose mission is to go to Mars and collect samples from places other rovers can’t reach. (Photo: SINTEF)

Engineers have long looked to nature for inspiration. Take Leonardo da Vinci, for instance, who observed birds' anatomy while designing his "flying machine." And, as The BBC notes, the Wright brothers studied pigeons for years before their first successful flight in 1903. Today, scientists in Norway have found inspiration for a new species of Mars rover from a limbless, scaly organism. They've built a robotic snake, which they plan to send to Mars to do some exploring, that moves much like the real thing.

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Red Orbit reports that researchers at The Foundation for Scientific and Industrial Research, or SINTEF, in Norway, developed the robotic snake in response to the limitations of more conventional Mars rovers. The idea is to get a rover on the Red Planet that can get to all of those hard to reach places with ease - the small nooks and crannies Curiosity and Opportunity can't reach because of their large wheels and cumbersome frames. One of the more notable moments of rover clumsiness was in 2009 when the Sprit rover, a NASA rover sent to Mars in January 2004, got stuck in the sand and never recovered.

"The snake robot could travel to cliffs and look underneath overhangs," said Howie Choset, a professor of robotics at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pa., according to ABC News. "It could find a crevasse, crawl down it and extract a sample, which itself could tell us how Mars evolved as a planet."

But the snake robot wouldn't put the other rovers out of commission. Researchers say the two could work in tandem, as a team. The larger rover could carry the snake robot around and let it detach when it finds a place of interest to explore.

"We are looking at several alternatives to enable a rover and a robot to work together," Aksel Transeth, one of the scientists who worked on the robotic snake, explains in a press release. "Since the rover has a powerful energy source, it can provide the snake robot with power through a cable extending between the rover and the robot. If the robot had to use its own batteries, it would run out of power and we would lose it."

SINTEF plans to send the robotic snake to Mars during a planned mission for 2018 called ExoMars. They'll be using the serpent rover to search for evidence of microbial life on the Red Planet.

Here's footage of the robotic snake from YouTube:

Read more from iScience Times:

Mars One Mission: Meet Some Of The People Hoping For A One-Way Ticket To The Red Planet [VIDEO]

'Comet Of The Century' Passes By Mars: When Will ISON Be Visible From Earth?

Mars Curiosity Rover Photographs Solar Eclipse While Enroute To Mount Sharp

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