Rovers are cool and all, but they aren't exactly what you might call agile. Case in point, the Curiosity rover is currently undertaking a year-long trek that will cover a total distance of roughly five miles. They're also not very good at poking their heads in holes and crevices. In an effort to solve this shortcoming, the European Space Agency (ESA) is planning on unleashing a new type of robot upon the Red Planet: snakes.
Slithering, winding reptile-based robots will have an ease of movement that rovers just can't match on the surface of Mars. Their form factor is perfectly suited to the rocky red expanse the rovers have been studying. On Mars, as in the deserts here on Earth, a serpentine construction would allow the robots to traverse sandy areas, probe tight corners and even climb up on ledges.
The robot snakes won't be sent alone, though. They will accompany a new wave of rovers in the years to come. These rovers will function as a sort of snake pit for the robots, charging their batteries and housing the soil samples the snakes collect. The rovers may even be capable of launching spacecraft back to Earth so that we might get a first-hand look at what Mars is made of.
The ESA is still completing feasibility studies into the limitations of their snake robots, so there's no ETA yet for their deployment. Life on Mars will have to wait a while before it can be terrified by the reptile robot rovers of tomorrow.