DIY Snake Arm Robot Prototype

If you wanted to make a robot for school, would you immediately think that a snake arm robot would make a good choice?

Hussam EL-Sheikh did; take a good look at this video of his prototype.


(Snake Arm Robot)

I had the chance to ask him a few questions about his project.

Technovelgy: In what context did you make this robot?

Hussam: I made this over the course of 7 months as part of my A-Level Design and Technology (DT) course in the UK.

In my previous school projects I was heavily involved with the programming and electronics side of the course, for this project I wanted to go back to what I really enjoyed in DT which was more mechanics biased. Firstly I had the idea of some sort of a robotic arm, when I did my research I found that most robotic arms have a standard design, long segments with a joint on the end of it. I did not want to do a standard design, I like to challenge myself and all my previous projects have gone way above and beyond the A-Level DT course. I then found snake robots, and I thought they looked interesting.

The idea is not new, there are a good number of other professional organisations working on snake robots including, NASA and Carnegie Melon University in the USA. If you do a search for "snakebot" or "Snake robot" on Google you will find them all. However I was not a professional and did not have the resources that they probably had. That did not deter me as a really wanted to have a go at making my own version of a snake robot. So for my project I took the angle of making the cheapest solution but with maximum functionality. So after dithering about for the first month of the academic year I began on this project.

T: How did you go about designing and making the prototype?

H: There was research involved, followed by making prototypes not only for the arm but I also designed all the electronics that allow the snake arm to work. Finally about 3 days short of the deadline for the project, I finished my snake arm! This was one of my most difficult projects, throughout I had to work to a new standard of engineering and quality to ensure the final product was top quality.

All these companies were making larger robots that would inevitably be very expensive, my solution came out very cheap and simple to use. My snake arm is controlled wirelessly, and it has a day/night camera on its head that transmits it images back to the base unit. On my video the arm is demonstrating an "auto" program that I developed that just shows it moving side to side and demonstrates it flexibility. It is possible to switch to a manual mode where you control the arm.

I must thank the people who helped along the way with this project, my teachers at school, my sources of information and anyone else.

T: Are you interested in science fiction?

H: Having an interest in science and technology such as mine means that you are inevitably aware of science fiction, also itís a large part of current culture. I have not read a whole Sci-fi novel but I am aware of them.

I have just recently been reading the work of Sir Arthur C. Clarke, which I am enjoying. I also like to read about current science and technology, such as "New Scientist" and "Popsci". I do love anything to do with science and technology and I will read anything on the subject. During the course of my project research I would be looking at particular item or article, and I would see a link for something and I would think "oh that looks interesting", a click and several windows open on my computer screen later Iím on something totally unrelated to my research!

T: Thanks!

H: Thanks once again for your interest.

If you want to take a look at the professional end of snake arm robotics, see Snake-Arm Robot In A Plane, Octarms tentacle bot and also this snake robot roundup.

As far as I know, the first person to talk about the idea of having a mechanical snake arm, or mechanical tentacles, was in the classic 1898 story, War of the Worlds. H.G. Wells referred to the "glittering tentacles" that enabled the Martian Tripods to both walk and grasp objects:

Seen nearer, the Thing was incredibly strange, for it was no mere insensate machine driving on its way. Machine it was, with a ringing metallic pace, and long, flexible, glittering tentacles (one of which gripped a young pine tree) swinging and rattling about its strange body.
(Read more about H.G. Wells steel tentacle)

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