A snail-inspired robot capable of sliding over assorted surfaces has been developed by researchers from the University of Bristol in the U.K.

Designed to mimic the motion of a snail, the robot has reportedly been outfitted with a sliding suction mechanism — which serves as a substitute for the adhesive properties of the snail’s mucus — that enables it to slide across surfaces using water.

Source: Tianqi YueSource: Tianqi Yue

This design, according to the team, allows robots to easily scale walls, potentially paving the way for the development of robots capable of traveling on the surfaces of wind turbine blades, ship hulls, aircraft and glass windows of skyscraper to perform autonomous inspections.

To replicate the sliding suction behavior of snails that is largely due to mucus secretion — which reduces friction and enhances suction — the team developed a 'sliding suction' mechanism for the robot, which reportedly achieved comparable sliding ability as actual snails when tested in the lab.

To mimic the critical role of mucus secretion in the snail’s sliding suction mechanism, the team employed water to serve as an inexpensive, easy-to-access and clean artificial mucus to enable the robot to slide while simultaneously maintaining suction.

In the lab, the snail-inspired robot was able to carry a 200 g mass while avoiding obstacles and also demonstrated high loaded sliding ability by carrying a 1 kg mass — which was 10 times heavier than the robot itself.

Further, this mechanism enabled the lightweight robot to slide vertically and upside down, as well as achieve high speeds.

“Through the performance of sliding suction robot, we demonstrated that sliding suction offers low energy consumption, high adhesion efficiency and safety, high loading capacity and low complexity, while only leaving a quick-to-evaporate water trail,” the team added.

An article detailing the robotic snail, "Snail-inspired water-enhanced soft sliding suction for climbing robots,” appears in the journal Nature Communications. To see the snail-inspired robot in action, watch the accompanying video, which appears courtesy of the University of Bristol.

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