Researchers in Blacksburg, Va., are testing snakelike robots that may prevent slips and falls. The Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory at Virginia Tech unveiled them last spring and has been racking up awards since, most recently last month at a Korea design fair where the 3-ft-long critters took the grand prize.
“These are really wicked cool robots,” says Dennis Hong, lab director, adding that the robots are designed to climb scaffolds, buildings and other high places that might pose risks to construction workers. Using built-in sensors and cameras, the robots could be used for inspection or other sensitive tasks, he adds. Falls are the most frequent type of accident in construction, accounting for about one-third of all fatalities, reports the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. In 2007, more than 440 construction workers died from falls.
The robots, which are powered by either electric motors or compressed air, wrap around objects and then use wheels to glide up or down. They are currently tethered to a laptop, but Hong and his students are working on giving them independent motion.