A Leeds University researcher has built a robotic worm he claims could be used to help to rescue earthquake survivors.
The 78in (2m) robot is based on the nervous system of a microscopic worm, C. elegans, and copies its movements.
Dr Jordan Boyle, designer of the "worm-bot", said in future it could be fitted with carbon dioxide detectors or thermal cameras to seek out people trapped in collapsed buildings.
He said: "A worm has the right body to be able to slither right in there." Dr Boyle's invention is 2,000 times larger than the worm on which it is modelled. The worm-bot also has a rigid backbone, like a snake's, and contains a series of springs along the length of its body to give the robot worm-like flexibility.
Designed to help in the search for disaster survivors, Dr Boyle said the worm-bot could reach otherwise inaccessible places. "A lot of search and rescue robots have wheels, and that's great when you have an open space," he said. "But imagine a collapsed building with lots of gaps, nooks and crannies. "The intention is, one day, to be able to send it into those buildings to seek out survivors."
However, Dr Boyle said at the moment his creation was still "more a snake with the mind of a worm". He said: "A future version would just need to include an extra layer of 'intelligence' that could step in if the robot needed help to wriggle its way out of a corner."
Dr Boyle said, given the correct "skin", the next version of the worm-bot should be able to swim through water or crawl through snow or mud.
External link: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-leeds-14123555