Robot Snails


Biomimicry is very important in robotics, where robots have been inspired by fleas, pangolins, octopi, and more. The latest on our radar is the snail.

It walks! It glides! It excretes mucus!

A new remote-controlled robot has an inflatable single foot that moves the way a real snail’s foot does, activating different areas of the foot in an undulating wave motion and sliding on mucus. It can creep up a slope, turn without falling, and…well…excrete its own mucus or mucus-like substance. As the foot glides across various surfaces, the mucus acts as a lubricant, significantly reducing friction. This allows the robot to move efficiently, even on challenging terrains.

Researchers made a large model of a snail shell to cover the plain rectangular “foot” they created, and they hope to put the pumps which create the wave-like motion into the steel, making the robot more self-contained.

They’re imagining that their new snail-like robot could go inside human bodies and carry items around for medical professionals. They’re working to make the robot softer and more like a real snail for this purpose.

Out for plastic

Another variation on the idea has been developed with the goal of cleaning up micro plastics in the ocean. The researchers used a 3-D printer to print out their foot and gave it a helix-shaped structure attached to the bottom of the foot to create the undulation.

Inspired by the way snails get food into their bellies, the researchers made their snailbot suck in water and filter out micro plastics.


While the two real-world examples have very specific plans for their futures, we can imagine more general uses for a robosnail.

  • Its ability to climb nearly vertical surfaces and maneuver in confined spaces could make it invaluable for inspecting pipelines, tanks, and other industrial infrastructure.
  • The robot’s ability to navigate tight spaces and slippery surfaces could make it ideal for search and rescue operations in collapsed buildings or disaster zones.
  • Its silent, efficient movement might allow it to monitor sensitive ecosystems without disturbing the environment.

By learning from the ingenious design of the humble snail, engineers may one day create a versatile and adaptable robot capable of traversing challenging environments.