Slithering Robot Could Aid Offshore Inspections

Slithering Robot Could Aid Offshore Inspections
HUMRS during its March 2021 underwater demonstration. PHOTO SOURCE: Carnegie Mellon University

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) have developed a submersible, snakelike robot that could be used to inspect ships and underwater infrastructure, including offshore rigs and pipelines.

Last month a team from the Biorobotics Lab in the university’s School of Computer Science’s Robotics Institute tested the modular reptilian robot – formally known as the Hardened Underwater Modular Robot Snake (HUMRS) – in Carnegie Mellon’s swimming pool. According to a written statement from the university, the demonstration showcased HUMRS’ ease of control and ability to dive through underwater hoops and swim smoothly and precisely

“We can go places that other robots cannot,” remarked Howie Choset, CMU professor of computer science who is leading the project along with fellow Biorobotics Lab director Matt Travers. “It can snake around and squeeze into hard-to-reach underwater spaces.”

The Biorobotics Lab developed HUMRS with a grant from the Pittsburgh-based Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing (ARM) Institute. According to Matt Fischer, ARM Institute program manager, the project aims to assist the U.S. Department of Defense with inspecting ships, submarines, and other underwater infrastructure for damage or as part of routine maintenance.

The CMU lab views the oil and gas industry as a key non-military potential user of the technology. The university pointed out that HUMRS could inspect underwater pipes for damage or blockages, assess offshore rigs, or check the integrity of a tank while it is filled with liquid. Nate Shoemaker-Trejo, a mechanical and mechatronics engineer with the Biorobotics Lab, pointed out the “snakebot” is suitable for inspecting and maintaining any fluid-filled systems.

“The distinguishing feature is the robot’s form factor and flexibility,” Shoemaker-Trejo explained. “The smallest versions of regular submersibles are usually blocky, one-piece arrangements. The robot snake is narrow and jointed. The end result is that an underwater robot snake can squeeze around corners and into small spaces where regular submersibles can’t go.”

To contact the author, email The CMU Biorobotics Lab has released a video of HUMRS in action.


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