Snake-like robot for the Moon

The bigger picture: Burrowing robot

Image credit: Cover Images

A snake-like robot has been built to burrow through sand or loose soil.

This action is harder than moving through air or water because the surrounding material has to be moved out of the way. Researchers at UC Santa Barbara (UCSB) and Georgia Institute of Technology have taken cues from plants and animals to develop “a fast, controllable soft robot” that can burrow through granular material.

Two key ideas taken from nature are to advance by extending the tip, which keeps resistive forces localised to the growing end, and to use ‘granular fluidisation’ by sending a jet of air down into the sand to loosen it.

Snake-like robot for the Moon - inline

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The team is working on a project with Nasa to develop burrowing for the Moon or other bodies. Potential terrestrial uses could include soil sampling, underground installation of utilities and erosion control.

It was explained: “The technology not only enables new applications for fast, precise and minimally invasive movement underground, but also lays mechanical foundations for new types of robots.”

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