Will Europe send robot snakes to Mars before Hollywood?

The European Space Agency has asked for a report on the feasibility of teaming a serpentine robot with a rover to explore the Red Planet. How has this not already been made into a movie?

Snakes on the Red Planet -- coming to a theater or real life first? SINTEF/Thor Nielsen

In our real, human world, we first learned to fly ourselves around our planet before advancing enough to fly robots made in our image (kind of) to explore Mars.

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.

But not so fast, say the real humans. Actual nonfictional European scientists are looking into developing robotic snakes that could be sent to Mars to work in tandem with a rover to explore places that are inaccessible to the rover.

"Maneuverability is a challenge. The Spirit rover was lost after it became stuck in the sand on Mars. The vehicles just cannot get to many of the places from which samples have to be taken," said researchers Pål Liljebäck and Aksel Transeth at SINTEF, a Norway-based independent research organization.

The researchers are working on a feasibility study for the European Space Agency that looks at the best way for a robotic snake and rover to work together to gather samples and access spots that would be too tight of a fit for a rover alone. Options include making the snake robot one of the rover's arms or allowing the snake rover arm to be detachable so it can slither around and explore on its own.

"The connection between the robot and the rover also means that the snake robot will be able to assist the vehicle if the latter gets stuck", says Liljebäck in a statement from SINTEF. "In such a situation, the robot could lower itself to the ground and coil itself around a rock enabling the rover pull itself loose by means of the cable winch, which the rover would normally use to pull the snake robot toward the rover."

The team plans to submit a more-detailed study as soon as December, and if all goes slitheringly, perhaps we'll see a serpentine robot sent to Mars on an upcoming mission, as soon as 2016.

Really folks, how is it possible that scientists came up with robotic rovers with robotic snake arms in space before screenwriters did? Let's just start placing bets now -- will a Martian robot snake movie make it to theaters (or DVD or Netflix) before a real robot snake makes it to Mars?

Let us know in the comments if you think science or Hollywood will act quicklier -- or take the long shot bet that a Sharknado will be observed on Saturn's moon Titan before either.

 

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