Robot snakes sent to Mars? Sounds like the plot line to a low budget sci-fi / horror movie – somewhere between Men in Black III and Jack Frost 2: Revenge of the Mutant Killer Snowman. Nevertheless, mechanical snakes may be rocketed to Mars by Europe’s finest space minds, reports ABC News on Sept. 16.
The Mars Curiosity Rover has been hanging out on Mars for close to one year, and has about 12 months left on its two-year mission. Maneuverability on the rocky Red Planet has been an issue, as NASA quickly found out when their other robotic rover, Mars Spirit, became sand-stuck in late 2009 and stopped communicating in March of 2010.
The solution? Small robotic snakes, that much like the actual reptile, would have incredible ability to use all-point locomotion to move easily in various directions and navigate over, under and through various rocky terrain.
“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, an independent research organization in Scandinavia backed by the European Space Agency.
With NASA budget cuts hitting the space agency, the ESA may be the first to implement the ‘snakes on a rover’ idea.
“In the world of Hollywood, snakes on a plane have tangled with Samuel L. Jackson and terrorized numerous overacting extras, so it stands to reason that the next step is a Vin Diesel sci-fi flick about treacherous robot snakes on Mars,” jokes Cnet.com.
But the idea could have real traction. A possible mission is already planned by the ESA for 2018, giving researchers about four years to perfect their robotic reptiles.
“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.