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Snake Bots

October 14, 2014

Engineers take slithering lessons from sidewinders.



sidewinder Rob Felt

A sidewinder at Zoo Atlanta. (Rob Felt)

Slithering lessons from snakes. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Sidewinder snakes seem to glide over sandy surfaces almost magically. In the journal Science, a multi-institutional team of researchers describe their work studying exactly how the snakes move up sand dunes. Zoo Atlanta researcher Joseph Mendelson III says their goal is to teach robots to do the same thing.


Robots are expensive, and a robot gets stuck in the sand, that’s a problem—especially if that  sand happens to be, say, on another planet.


They’ve discovered that there’s more to sand climbing than just the snake’s unique motion. It also varies what portion of its body touches the ground, and the angle of contact. The team reports that a snakebot they’ve programmed to replicate the snake technique has successfully navigated sand dunes, but there’s still work to do before it’s as elegant and effective as a real sidewinder. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.