Robot snake evolves, claim British scientists, according to a report in New Scientist, 21 August 2003.

Scientists and engineers have designed a new type of spying device that creeps along the ground collecting video, audio and other information for use in spying and battle planning. The robot consists of a series of linked segments and is moved by wires made of a special titanium/nickel alloy that contracts when an electrical current is passed through it. As the current is turned on and off the wires move the segments making the robot slither along the ground like a wriggling snake.

Because the snake may be damaged on its forays into enemy territory the scientists have programmed it with software that enables it to adapt its movements even if some of its segments are immobilised. The designers of the software claim that it works on evolutionary principles because it can try out many options, assess which ones work best and apply them to keep the snake moving.

It seems they were inspired by the ability of animals to adapt to injury. “When a dog loses a leg it’s got a clever enough brain to allow it to adapt” commented computer scientist Peter Bentley of University College London.

Editorial Comment: The ability of this device to assess different solutions for moving after it has been damaged is a tribute to the genius of the snake’s creators, but this ability never turns it into a robot fish. Likewise, the dog’s ability to cope with losing a leg never makes it evolve into a cat or anything else.

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