Carnegie Mellon’s Snakebot Takes to the Water

Carnegie Mellon’s Snakebot Takes to the Water
Photo: Carnegie Mellon University

Looking like a cross between an oboe and a squid from the matrix, Carnegie Mellon University’s Hardened Underwater Modular Robot Snake (HUMRS) is a sight to behold. Created by researchers Howie Choset and Matt Travers, the project is part of the university’s Biorobotics Lab in the school of Computer Science.

The point of the robot? To explore nooks and crannies that divers and other biological lifeforms can’t access.

“We can go places that other robots cannot,” said Choset. “It can snake around and squeeze into hard-to-reach underwater spaces.”

The robot, as its name implies, is modular. The researchers built it so they could swap out various sections including thrusters, cameras, and sensors. Built for the U.S. military, its main mission is to explore ships and submarines while they are in the water. The real benefit, said the creators, is the robot’s ability to inspect ships at port, reducing the amount of time the ship has to stay in dry dock.

The group also created a land-based robot that helped search for survivors in the 2017 Mexico City earthquake. The HUMRS is one of the first snake-like robots to take to the high seas or, more precisely, CMU’s pool. The snake isn’t completely autonomous, however, and requires a control cable to guide it as it winds its way around a ship.

“If they can get that information before the ship comes into a home port or a dry dock, that saves weeks or months of time in a maintenance schedule,” said program manager Matt Fischer. “And in turn, that saves money.”

Photo: Carnegie Mellon University Photo: Carnegie Mellon University

While the robot won’t be picking sea kelp with a retractable claw, it’s definitely an interesting innovation in the realm of snake-like robots that are at once cool and creepy.