A snake-like robot capable of investigating the terrain on Enceladus, which is Saturn's sixth-largest moon, has been created by roboticists from California Institute of Technology's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

According to the researchers, the robot, dubbed EELS (Exobiology Extant Life Surveyor), can travel across the terrain it would encounter on Enceladus, which is mostly covered in ice. The team built the prototype robot to seek out signs of life on Enceladus, with its flat stretches, ridges caused by ice masses pushing against one another, a subsurface ocean and craters caused by asteroid strikes.

Source: NASA/JPL-CaltechSource: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The prototype, which is roughly 4 meters long, features a head with a computer and multiple segments connected together by ball joints, which enable them to independently swivel. Further, each of those segments features a corkscrew exterior, which enables locomotion.

EELS, which has been designed to autonomously traverse icy terrain by rotating its corkscrews, will capture material as it travels across the surface of Enceladus to test for signs of life there. The robot prototype also includes several sensors and cameras and is designed to withstand temperatures averaging -198° C at noon along the moon's equator.

An article detailing the robot, “EELS: Autonomous snake-like robot with task and motion planning capabilities for ice world exploration,” appears in the journal Science Robotics.

For more information on EELS, watch the accompanying video that appears courtesy of California Institute of Technology's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

To contact the author of this article, email mdonlon@globalspec.com