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Snake-arm robot works in tight quarters

Joystick guides robo-snake in orifice surgery.

A U.K. company has developed what it calls the smallest snake-arm robot ever, one that is flexible and compliant, like an endoscope, but fully controllable and, like a robot, can be precisely positioned.

The unit will be tested by the U.S. Department of Defense in conducting inspections and work inside confined or cluttered spaces.

OC Robotics

When not in use, the robot coils up into a briefcase-size box where it is stowed. This robot has no "elbows," which allows it to "follow its nose" while maneuvering in tight quarters, according to the developer, Bristol-based OC Robotics, unlike conventional industrial robots, which are virtually useless "because their elbows get in the way." (Videos).

The snake-arm is 24-inches long, with longer units on the way. The tendon-driven arm is comprised of vertebrae, similar to a human spine, with wires terminating at various points along its length. The result is that an operator with a joystick can independently control each of the segments (PDF).

The company envisions dozen of uses for the new snake-bot, including aerospace assembly, nuclear inspection and a variant of invasive surgical called "natural orifice surgery." Yeeoow.

OC Robotics