Carnegie Mellon University's latest robot is called Snake Monster, however, with six legs, it looks more like an insect than a snake, but it really doesn't matter what you call it, says its inventor,
Howie Choset, the whole point of the project is to make modular robots that can easily be reconfigured to meet a user's needs.
Choset, a professor in CMU's Robotics Institute, said the walking robot, developed in just six months, is only one example of the robots that eventually can be built using this modular system.
His team already is working on modules such as force-sensing feet, wheels and tank-like treads that will enable the assembly of totally different robots.
"By creating a system that can be readily reconfigured and that also is easy to program, we believe we can build robots that are not only robust and flexible, but also inexpensive," Choset said.
"Modularity has the potential to rapidly accelerate the development of traditional industrial robots, as well as all kinds of new robots."
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) sponsored this work through its Maximum Mobility and Manipulation (M3) program, which focuses on ways to design and build robots more rapidly and enhance their ability to manipulate objects and move in natural environments.
Snake Monster, as well as some of Choset's other robots, will be demonstrated at the finals of the DARPA Robotics Challenge, June 5-6 in Pomona, Calif.
For years, Choset's lab has concentrated on building and operating snake-like robots—chains of repeated component joints.
By careful coordination of these joints, the robots can be made to move in ways that are similar to a snake's natural undulations and in other ways not seen in nature, such as rolling.
Applications for these robots include urban search and rescue, archaeological exploration and, thanks to the robots' ability to move through pipes, inspection of power plants, refineries and sewers.