The Mars Curiosity Rover has been on Mars for a little over one year now, and much has been learned during this time. One of the main things that has been learned is that maneuvering on the rocky, red planet is rough. NASA has previously lost one Mars rover, Spirit, because it got stuck in the sand.
Norway's SINTEF Research Institute, backed by a $85,000 grant from the European Space Agency (ESA), has proposed a solution to the locomotion issue on Mars. Their inspiration? Snakes. "Biological snakes can climb rocks and slide through small holes. Imagine if you could have a snake trained to find people in fallen down buildings," stated Aksel Transeth, a senior research scientist at SINTEF.
Howie Choset, a professor of robotics at Carnegie Mellon University (the college that brought us this crazy robotic snake), added more insight as to why a snake rover would be beneficial towards the mission on Mars: "The snake robot could travel to cliffs and look underneath overhangs. It could find a crevasse, crawl down it and extract a sample, which itself could tell us how Mars evolved as a planet."
Apparently, a snake robot could be the best thing that happened to Mars since Arnold Schwarzenegger. However, SINTEF does not plan for the snake robot to act alone on the Red Planet: "We are looking at several alternatives to enable a rover and a robot to work together. Since the rover has a powerful energy source, it can provide the snake robot with power through a cable extending between the rover and the robot. If the robot had to use its own batteries, it would run out of power and we would lose it," stated Transeth.
Currently, the team at SINTEF is still debating how the partnership between rover and snake would best be implemented: "One option is to make the robot into one of the vehicle’s arms, with the ability to disconnect and reconnect itself, so that it can be lowered to the ground, where it can crawl about independently." Being able to have some form of independence would be the most advantageous implementation of the snake, seeing as mobility is the main issue the team is trying to solve with this innovation. Pål Liljebäck, a fellow research at SINTEF, added that "The connection between the robot and the rover also means that the snake robot will be able to assist the vehicle if the latter gets stuck." This would ensure that a situation similar to the one that happened with NASA's Spirit would not occur again.
All of this news leaves just one question: Why in the world did we cut funding to NASA? If we hadn't, we could all be riding super-awesome mechanical snakes everywhere, much like Paul learns to do in Dune (Except these worms weren't mechanical....But, they were on a planet similar to Mars.)
Image via YouTube