November 19, 2011

50 feet Snake Robot

Some of Team Titanoboa, from left to right: Charlie Brinson, Markus Hager, Michelle La Hay...

Robotic snakes are - perhaps surprisingly - nothing all that new. In the past several years, we've seen ones designed to swim through debris, help out at construction sites, perform surveillance, and inspect the inside of pipes. People seem to be captivated by the little guys, which begs the question: has an artist ever made one? If they did, it would have to stand out from its more utilitarian counterparts, perhaps by being enormous and incorporating colored lights. Evoking prehistory wouldn't hurt, either. Well, it turns out that there is a creation that ticks all those boxes. It's time to meet Titanoboa.

The original Titanoboa was a species of snake that lived 60 million years ago, reaching a length of 50 feet (15 meters) and an estimated weight of one ton (907 kg). When artist Charlie Brinson first heard about the creature's discovery in 2009, he decided that he wanted to build a life-size electromechanical replica of the monster. A co-founder of Vancouver's eatART collective, he put a team of members together, and work began this summer.

"As our society continued to exhume past fossil life to burn to fuel modern progress, we would bring a fossil back to life to raise awareness. Great irony," he told us. "So lately, we've been calling it things like 'A fossil fueling change'."

He went on to list other sources of inspiration, that included the technical challenge, the chance to collaborate with a passionate group of volunteer artists, and "the desire to show people the improbable and unbelievable in the final product, and to inspire them and refresh their ideas of what is possible."

Although Titanoboa is not yet complete, it has definitely reached the "wow" stage, to the point that it made an appearance at the most recent Burning Man festival. Its basic skeleton, "muscles," and control system for two-thirds of its body are finished, as are 20 of its planned total of 30 vertebrae. As you can see in the video below, it's already pretty impressive.

"Now it's time to look at test results from our initial runs, and work on the upgrades and key parts that will make this machine live up to its potential," said Brinson.
Besides building the last ten vertebrae, these upgrades and parts will consist of an outer rib structure and scales (allowing for off-road operation), dynamic lighting that changes with the snake's movements, and possibly even the ability to breath fire. Charlie also plans on refining the control system, to make movements such as side-winding and head- and tail-rearing possible, and to change its motions on the fly in order to optimize efficiency and performance.

The plans for Titanoboa get even better, however.
"The final goal will be to make the beast neutrally buoyant and waterproof for amphibious operation. That's right. A fully functional 50 foot sea monster," he said. "But that's a ways off."

  © 2011 Electroclub


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