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Approach to enable both locomotion and manipulation in snake-like robots

Approach to enable both locomotion and manipulation in snake-like robots


Credit: Salagame et al.

Snake-inspired robots could offer various advantages over traditional wheeled or legged robots: For example, crawling robots can adapt their body shape to enter tight spaces and move freely in environments that are inaccessible to humans or other robots.

However, in contrast to many robots with wheels or legs, most snake-like robots are unable to pick up or manipulate objects, which means they cannot complete tasks that involve more advanced interaction with their surroundings, severely limiting their real-world applications.

A research team at Northeastern University's Silicon Synapse Institute, led by Professor Alireza Ramezani, recently presented a new approach that enables snake-like robots to move and manipulate objects simultaneously. Presented in a pre-published paper on arXiv, the approach was initially implemented in COBRA, a robotics platform developed by a group of Northeastern University students as part of the BIG Idea competition.

“We've been developing our snake robot, COBRA, for almost three years,” Adarsh ​​Saragame, a doctoral student at Northwestern University, told Tech Xplore. “The project started as a way to explore alternative locomotion capabilities.”

“Unlike standard wheeled or legged robots, snake-like robots offer versatile locomotion capabilities because they can morph into different shapes and control which parts of their body come into contact with the ground. This allows for more precise adjustment of contact forces compared to wheeled or legged robots, which only have certain parts of their body in contact with the ground.”

After successfully transforming the COBRA robot into different shapes, Saragame and his colleagues were able to broaden its locomotion skills and demonstrate five different locomotion styles. They then began to explore the possibility of enhancing the robot's object manipulation skills as well.

“To make the COBRA robot more capable and versatile, and to expand its applications beyond what traditional robots can do, we came up with the idea of ​​integrating locomotion and manipulation into object manipulation,” Saragame says. “And that's what we've done with COBRA.”

The COBRA robot's head incorporates a gripper mechanism that is designed to assist the robot during a specific mode of locomotion called tumbling. While the robot is tumbling, the head and tail interlock to form a wheel-like structure that allows it to passively roll down slopes at high speeds.

“We modified the robot's gripper so that it can hook onto a box, pick it up, and move it to another location,” Saragame says, “which gives it dexterity to manipulate the box and get it into tight spaces, on slopes, and in places where a standard robot can't operate.”

To realize the proposed locomotion manipulation approach, Saragame and his colleagues developed an optimization-based planner that takes into account ground reaction forces to plan both the robot's movements and the object manipulation strategy. In a recent paper, the researchers tested this planner and demonstrated its feasibility.

“We first tested this approach by studying the open-loop behavior of a real robot,” Saragame said. “The next step is to implement this closed-loop in simulation and eventually on a real robot. But what this study shows is that our approach is feasible. The task we are tackling is not easy, because a very large number of contacts with the ground leads to a lot of slippage and flexibility in the joints, which leads to a lot of errors.”

Recent work by the research team has demonstrated that a snake-inspired robot can simultaneously locomotion and manipulation. So far, the researchers have used this approach to study the COBRA robot's interaction with the ground and boxes. In the future, Saragame and his collaborators plan to further test the approach on more versatile locomotion and manipulation tasks.

“We hope to add a sensor suite with cameras and IMUs to COBRA and harness the robot's lateral movements to tackle more autonomous locomotion tasks,” Saragame added. “This is an exciting new aspect that has rarely been seen in robots. We will use this morphing capability to change the robot's inertial properties and change its direction of rotation.”

“We will also work on closed-loop object manipulation using cameras, so the robot can identify a box, pick it up and move it to another location. This could enable us to tackle some interesting tasks that involve advanced planning.”

Further information: Adarsh ​​Salagame et al. “Non-impulsive Contact-Implicit Planning for Locomotion in a Slithering Robot.” arXiv (2024). DOI: 10.48550/arxiv.2404.08174

Journal information: arXiv

2024 Science X Network

Citation: Approach enables snake-like robots to both move and manipulate (May 26, 2024) Retrieved May 26, 2024 from

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