Plymouth based company Merlin Robotics have been working in association with Nottingham Trent University to produce an intriguing robotic snake that uses not only muscle actuation but also linear sensors to function, and will be on display at London’s Science Museum at the DANA centre in April 2008.
A world first, the muscle actuation mechanism is breakthrough technology – the ‘muscles’ include built-in air valves which enable far greater control and scope for movement. Another world first is the snake’s absolute optical position sensors. These linear sensors are unique in the world of robotics as they are bus addressable and less susceptible to magnetic interference. These two new technologies, combined with the software, enabled the robotics experts and Nottingham Trent University to create this world first in compliant robotics. The mechanism can also be implemented into commercial applications.
Months of research and development culminated in the unveiling of the robotic reptile at the Emergent Objects & Performance Design Symposium, the first of its kind. Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) as well as the Engineering and Physical sciences Research Council (EPSRC) it was an artistic-led symposium. The vertical Snake was created to function as an interactive piece of art. Standing nearly two metres high, the hypnotic swaying movement and writhing of the robotic reptile was designed to draw the observer in, enabling them to interact with this responsive sculpture.
The two Universities, who became aware of Merlin Systems Corporation by virtue of their development of the unique ‘Robot Football’, facilitated the creation of this art-meets-technology project. They were interested in the actuators control system, and wanted to create something to showcase this – and thus the idea was born.
Dr. Philip Breedon of the College of Art and Design, Nottingham Trent University commented: “Merlin Robotics have been excellent partners to work with from day one, their proactive approach and experience related to soft robotics enabled us to explore and develop challenging new ideas and concepts in advanced robotics. Merlin have provided and continue to provide excellent technical support as we further refine and develop this project.”