Want to have your robot video get widespread internet coverage? Just wait five years. The Omnitread snake-like robot from the University of Michigan’s Mobile Robotics Lab debuted back in 2005, but it’s still getting major circulation in the last few weeks. Why? Some have erroneously reported that it’s being used to help search for earthquake victims. As far as I know that’s not true right now, but it could one day perform that function. Personally, I think people are talking about the Omnitread because it’s so cool to watch. Check out the video of the snake bot after the break.
As described in the video, the Omnitread comes in two sizes: eight inch and four inch diameters. The four-inch Omnitread, OT4, weighs around nine pounds but can still lift half its body off the ground. That’s an impressive feat for a robot of this size. The OT4 certainly has enough flexibility to maneuver in some tough places. Creator Johann Borenstein and his team have published papers discussing using the OT4, or similar robots, as inspector bots for hazardous environments.
Make sure to stick around past the two minute mark to see Omnitread do some impressive interior pipe climbs.
Though the OT4 comes in just seven segments, you can classify it as a type of modular robot. Designers should be able to expand it to almost any length without greatly reducing it’s mobility. Oversized snake bots could reconnoiter locations humans couldn’t get into and could be fitted with mechanical tools to manipulate their surroundings. Overtime, robots like the Omnitread should be able to get even smaller as well. It’s that sort of versatility that makes robots of this kind so promising. They can scale up to handle larger tasks, or be scaled down to handle precise tasks. In the future we may see snake bots rescuing people trapped under buildings, or helping doctors perform colon surgery.
Still, as cool as the OT4 is in the video, I’m not sure the tread is the right approach. Carnegie Mellon’s ModSnake does just as well without any. Who knows, the Mobile Robotics Lab could be working on some amazing new biologically inspired robot that puts both the OT4 and ModSnake to shame. If so, we’ll probably all be watching the video in 2015.
[photo and video credit: University of Michigan Mobile Robotics Lab]