Robot Snakes Mimic Sidewinders Perfectly

  • Doug Horn , Design & Trend Staff Writer
  • Oct, 09, 2014, 06:15 PM

Scientists have long wondered why certain snakes can slither with minimal effort throughout the desert, while others have great difficulty going up desert slopes. Researchers used robotics to solve the mystery and to understand why some snakes move the way they do.

According to Tech Times, "Sidewinders are small rattlesnakes that can be found in southwest U.S. and the northwest of Mexico. Sidewinder snakes move themselves up one body section at a time, similar to how one would crawl in a trench. These snakes move in a way that is effective, but is different compared to other snakes."

Researchers from Georgia Tech, Carnegie Mellon, Oregon State and Zoo Atlanta used a robot snake model to understand why sidewinder snakes move the way they do.

"Sidewinding just seems so weird and unnecessary," said Dan Goldman, co-author and associate professor of physics at Georgia Tech. "Why use this crazy movement pattern? But as it turns out, they have a good reason."

The researchers utilized the robot sidewinder snake to stimulate how real snakes move through the sand. The robot snakes were placed into a specially-designed tank that replicated desert sand dunes.

The robot snake mimicked the movement of sidewinders on flat sand, but just like real sidewinders, inclines caused the snakes some difficulty, according to Voice of America.

Researchers found that the snakes move by waving their bodies both side to side and up and down. Each movement is made at a 90-degree angle from the previous wave.

"This type of robot often is described as biologically inspired, but too often the inspiration doesn't extend beyond a casual observation of the biological system," study co-author Howie Choset, Carnegie Mellon professor of robotics. "In this study, we got biology and robotics, mediated by physics, to work together in a way not previously seen."

The robot snakes can also be used in search-and-rescue missions in the future.

"Our initial idea was to use the robot as a physical model to learn what the snakes experienced," said study co-author Daniel Goldman from the Georgia Institute of Technology. "By studying the animal and the physical model simultaneously, we learned important general principles that allowed us to not only understand the animal, but also to improve the robot."

The findings on robot snakes were published in the journal Science.

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