Scientists on Thursday said they conducted experiments to learn precisely how sidewinder rattlesnakes are able to climb sandy hills, then applied the reptiles’ repertoire to an existing snake robot so it could do the same thing.
“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 scientists 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.”