Robotic Tentacle Manipulator

The Robotic Tentacle Manipulator is a development project that makes use of snake robotics research at Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Institute.

This snake-robot is scalable; it can be built however large or small as a subsystem to a larger platform like iRobot's rugged system Warrior, which travels over rough terrain and climbs stairs. The number of tentacles or snakes determines the breadth or scope of its search capabilities. The number of links on each of those tentacles supports each snake's length or reach into an area, as well as its ability to crawl, swim, climb or shimmy through narrow spaces all while transmitting images to the Soldier who is operating the system.

The subsystem comes equipped with sophisticated electronic sensors, among them laser detection and ranging, or LADAR, to render 3-D representations of object shapes and physical properties like faces, mass and center of mass.

( Robotic Tentacle Manipulator )

"The technology is leading to more than just the very tip of the snake being used in the object manipulation effect," said Derek Scherer, a researcher who works within ARL's Vehicle Technology Directorate.

"Consider that snakes push off rocks or roots to propel their bodies. We are using this same concept in development."

Scherer said that with increased manipulator dexterity, Soldiers can offload more tasks to the robotic platform. "When the platform is tasked with inspecting a potential IED threat, the extreme adaptability of the tentacle manipulator will allow the platform to rummage with precision," he said.

Its 'touch sensitivity' allows the snake-robot to balance objects and feel where forces are being applied as it rotates devices.

"It allows it to lift and reposition objects, including IEDs, for examination, and do so in a controlled fashion that is unlikely to detonate any ordnance." Scherer noted. "These same capabilities would improve inspections during cargo and checkpoint missions."

H.G. Wells was the first to write about this kind of snake robotic manipulators in his 1898 blockbuster War of the Worlds:

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 Wells' steel tentacles)

If you turn the Robot Tentacle Manipulator upside down, and make it big enough to straddle a house, the U.S. military would have the tripod from the story (see the illustration from the 1906 edition of Wells' story below).

( Tripod from War of the Worlds [1906 illustration] )

Carnegie Mellon has a remarkable record in developing snake robotics; slither over to these articles to find out more:

From Army technology expands snake-robotics .

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