Snake-Inspired Robots Highlight Innovations from Engineering Schools

Carnegie Mellon University showcases robotic talent at a National Robotics Initiative event.

(Image courtesy of the National Science Foundation.)

(Image courtesy of the National Science Foundation.)

The development of collaborative, cooperative robots is one of the over-arching goals of robotics research.  We dream of the day we have robots working in symbiotic relationships with humans – side by side, shoulder to hydraulically actuated shoulder.

This is also the goal of the National Robotics Initiative, which aims to accelerate the development of next-generation robots by working to advance capability and usability of robotic systems. The means to that end involves encouraging existing communities and the formation of new communities that focus on robotic innovation.

The NRI supports funding for a wide variety of robotics research projects that promise national impact, including manufacturing, sustainable agriculture, space and undersea exploration, health, transportation, personal and homeland security and disaster resiliency and sustainable infrastructure.

“Beyond extending robotics research into all areas of work and daily life, the NRI plays a central role in producing the next generation of researchers for this rapidly expanding field,” said Martial Hebert, director of Carnegie Mellon University’s (CMU) Robotics Institute.

These lofty goals mean that the NRI is an ideal collaborative environment for universities and their engineering students to reach greater heights of innovation.

At a recent NRI event, these ideals were exemplified by CMU. The university has collectively received 17 awards from the NRI related to the school’s wide range of research and development of robotics. Notable projects include robots to enhance minimally invasive surgery, advanced prosthetics, search and rescue efforts, improving bridge inspection, assisting the blind and even traversing the moon, to name just a few.

Two CMU robotics researchers had the chance to showcase their work at the event.

A professor at CMU’s Robotics Institute, Howie Choset, demonstrated snake-inspired robots and how they are able to move and thread through tightly packed spaces.  His robots showed off their ability to access locations that people or conventional machinery cannot. Applications for Choset’s robots range from urban search and rescue missions to building aircraft wings. In collaboration with other schools, he also sees future uses in medical procedures.

“I normally would not have been able to collaborate with Vanderbilt and Johns Hopkins universities on medical robotics if it had not been for the NRI. This work will lead to minimally invasive surgical techniques, which will ultimately cause less pain for the patient while at the same time making medical care more readily available,” Choset said.

Another CMU professor, Koushil Sreenath from the College of Engineering, demonstrated his research towards lower-limb robotic prostheses.

Initiatives such as the NRI, which work with multiple agencies including the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), and the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD), are essential to ensuring that students, professors and educational institutions are able to get the funding and support they need to pursue their often ground-breaking research.

“The National Robotics Initiative has provided funding for fundamental research that is essential for the development of the U.S. robotics industry and has created a collaborative community where researchers can share their expertise, algorithms, data and best practices,” said Hebert.

First announced in 2011 as part of the White House’s Advanced Manufacturing Initiative, the recent robotics event celebrated the NRI’s 5th anniversary and the progress already achieved in the field of robotics.

For more information on Carnegie Mellon University’s robotics research projects, check out the CMU Robotics Institute website.