CI-TEAMS The Challenge Domain: Snake-Inspired Robotic Systems

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Snakes. Why’d it have to be snakes? —Indiana Jones, 1938

Snake-inspired robots represent an important new frontier in autonomous robotic systems. Important areas, terrain and applications that are not suitable for traditional robotic systems may prove suitable for snake robots. For example, search and rescue missions in complex urban environments require devices that can maneuver in collapsed buildings, ductwork, and other obstacles. Snake robots may be used for planetary surface exploration, minimally invasive surgery, or inspection of piping and cabling. Lastly, snake-inspired robots have applications in homeland security and defense, enabling inspection of ships, containers and other structures too cramped for traditional robotic systems.

As shown in Figure 1, snake-inspired robots have complex, multi-disciplinary design requirements, includ- ing: small body diameter, small area required for locomotion, high maneuverability, obstacle avoidance, locomo- tion through various environments (dirt, rocks, water). Actuators need to be located in each module in order to enable independent motion. Sensors need to be positioned to sense distance, torque, tilt, in addition to mission- oriented parameters. Controllers must process sensory information and manage the overall robotic system in a mission context.

There are a multitude of challenges for these devices. The actuated joints create an extraordinary DOF. There are many joints to operate individually or to coordinate centrally. Motion-planning algorithms must be completely rethought for this domain. Similarly, physics-based modeling and simulation tools need to scale to handle the complexity of these devices. Design and simulation of a snake inspired robot machine leads to nu- merous problems of scale and domain complexity. These devices can include thousands of components, nearly all of which must interact for the snake to work. Additionally, one must capture engineering phenomena across all disciplines: mechanical, electrical, chemical, computer science, electronics, and environmental. The com- bination of scale and domain comple