A snake-shaped robot is being considered for use in future European Space Agency (ESA) Mars missions.
The research on the use of the slithering design is being conducted by Scandinavian research firm SINTEF, after being assigned a feasibility study by the ESA.
"Manoeuvrability 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 Pål Liljebäck and Aksel Transeth of SINTEF’s ICT division.
The robot would be powered by attachment to a rover, with Transeth saying that "one option is to make the robot into one of the vehicle's arms, with the ability to disconnect and reconnect itself, so that it can be lowered to the ground, where it can crawl about independently".
The shape would allow the robot to access tight and previously inaccessible areas, and if necessary disconnect itself from the rover’s power supply to collect data, before being winched back via a remaining cable to avoid loss of the device and to transmit data.
"At the Department of Applied Cybernetics, we have been working closely with the Norwegian University of Science and Technology's (NTNU's) Department of Engineering Cybernetics on snake robots for many years, and our teams have had some ideas about this for a long time," said Transeth and Liljebäck.
The researchers have built a prototype that works on Earth, but as Mars is an entirely different environment, they are to carry out a concept study to see if the technology remains feasible for use on the red planet.