Researchers Test Hardened Underwater Modular Robot Snake (HUMRS)

Carnegie Mellon University's acclaimed snake-like robot can now slither its way underwater, allowing the modular robotics platform to inspect ships, submarines and infrastructure for damage.

A team from the Biorobotics Lab in the School of Computer Science's Robotics Institute tested the Hardened Underwater Modular Robot Snake (HUMRS) last month in the university's pool, diving the robot through underwater hoops, showing off its precise and smooth swimming, and demonstrating its ease of control.

"We can go places that other robots cannot," said Howie Choset, the Kavčić-Moura Professor of Computer Science. "It can snake around and squeeze into hard-to-reach underwater spaces.


The project is led by Choset and Matt Travers, co-directors of the Biorobotics Lab.

The submersible robot snake was developed through a grant from the Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing (ARM) Institute. The project aims to assist the Department of Defense with inspecting ships, submarines and other underwater infrastructure for damage or as part of routine maintenance, said Matt Fischer, the program manager at the ARM Institute working on the project.

The military has limited options for inspecting areas like a ship's hull. To do so, the Navy must either send a team of divers to the ship's location, wait until it returns to port to deploy the divers, or pull it into a dry dock — all options that take time and money.

A submersible robot snake could allow the Navy to inspect the ship at sea, immediately alerting the crew to critical damage or sending information about issues that need attention back to port for use when the ship docks.

"If they can get that information before the ship comes into a home port or a dry dock, that saves weeks or months of time in a maintenance schedule," said Fischer, who served in the Navy for three years. "And in turn, that saves money."

Fischer, who crawled into the ballast tanks of a submarine during his service, said many sailors would gladly pass that difficult and tight duty to a robot.

Steve McKee, a co-lead of the Joint Robotics Organization for Building Organic Technologies (JROBOT), a Department of Defense task force interested in technology like the submersible robot snake, said the project is a great example of a partnership between CMU, the ARM Institute, and the Department of Defense that will improve the readiness of equipment in the armed services.

"The advancements being made hold great promise for helping not only the Department of Defense but also various industries around the world," McKee said.