The Snakebot

The design for Dennis Hong's latest robot came to him in his sleep. "In dreams in the middle of the night, I see these lines and colors that float around," says Hong, an assistant professor at Virginia Tech and head of the school's Robotics & Mechanisms Laboratory. "Wacky, weird ideas come out of it." Case in point: the HyDRAS, a snakelike robot that can roll up a pole. (HyDRAS stands for Hyperredundant Discrete Robotic Articulated Serpentine.) Eventually, he says, the robot will be able to climb scaffolding and perform dangerous tasks -- inspecting an oil and gas pipeline, for example, or the underside of a bridge. Virginia Tech plans to file a patent application soon, and Hong is looking for funding so he can continue research and development.