- Title: USA: NEWLY DEVELOPED ROBOTIC SNAIL COULD SEND THE OIL INDUSTRY INTO TOP GEAR
- Date: 27th February 2004
- Summary: (L!1)CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS, UNITED STATES (FILE) (MIT VNR) VARIOUS OF REAL SNAIL (SHELL LESS)
- Embargoed: 13th March 2004 12:00
- Location: CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS / UNIDENTIFIED LOCATION, UNITED STATES / AT SEA
- Country: USA
- Topics: Business,Quirky,Science,Light / Amusing / Unusual / Quirky
- Reuters ID: LVA88UV7DLMQ6WS9VNY0DZXRPGPS
- Story Text: Forget robocop, a newly developed robotic snail could send the oil industry into top gear.
For gardeners the snail is a dreaded pest but for researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, an inspiration which could lead to new forms of locomotion for future machines.
The humble snail now has its first robotic counterpart, RoboSnail. It may move at a...well, a snail's pace of course and it is not much to look at, but the RoboSnail is set to revolutionise the oil industry.
Professor Anette Hosoi and her student Brian Chan built RoboSnails when they discovered it had never been done before. After many weeks studying the way real snails move they mimicked its movement in research which challenges traditional forms of machinery movement.
"One of reasons we like the snails is that they are mechanically very simple, they have only one foot and they are extremely stable which means they are easy to build"
said Hosoi, adding "snails can climb over rocks, they can climb up walls, they can climb over ceilings which is something most animals can't do."
RoboSnail has one rubber "foot" which glides over a thin film of "mucus" or silicon oil. Unlike other forms of land locomotion, snails do not use traction to propel themselves along. A snail moves by pushing its fluid (mucus) between its flexible body and the ground.
The oil industry is particularly interested in RoboSnail for use in oil drilling. Right now drills can only bore downwards and not sideways once they reach the desired depth. A machine based on the technology of Robo Snail could change all that, and allow oil drilling to be much more effective.
Snails are also appealing to scientists looking at new ideas for machinery because they don't have exposed joints, so a machine based on their form and covered with a rubber resistant to corrosion could be extremely useful in chemically harsh environments.
Chan explains, "We might want some robots that work in very toxic environments or corrosive environments and if you have something like RoboSnail you can have all the mechanisms encased inside a rubber membrane prevents corrosive fluids from attacking inside."
Another attraction of RoboSnail is that oil wells fill with a viscous fluid during drilling, so not only are the conditions hot, and at high pressure, the machinery would need to move through this gummy liquid, ideal for RoboSnail.
Hosoi said, "One of the companies that's been very interested in the stuff that we've developed has been the oil companies, a lot of their measurements are taken in extreme conditions, so they drill down to ten thousand feet where temperatures might be 600 degrees Fahrenheit, they are under very high pressures and the idea is they need to explore down there to look at the conditions to find oil."
RoboSnail is by no means perfect, and new versions are being worked on all the time in order to build a version that truly mimics its natural counterpart and is capable of climbing walls and even crawl along ceilings. Researchers hope additional funding will come from oil companies.
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