Scientists at Carnegie Mellon University have found a way to make a better robot snake. They studied sidewinder rattlesnakes that can climb sandy hills. And then they applied the learning to an existing robot snake to allow it to do the same thing. It shows how researchers apply knowledge from biology to advance technology. Findings of the study appeared Thursday in the journal Science.

Robot Snake Could Help Search And Rescue Operations

Robot snakes can reach where conventional machinery can’t

A robot snake, unlike robots that move on wheels, could help in complicated tasks such as inspecting nuclear power plants and search and rescue missions in collapsed structures. Howie Choset, a robotics professor at Carnegie Mellon University, said robot snakes can move through tightly packed space to reach locations that conventional machinery or humans cannot.

Hamid Marvi, co-author of the study, said snakes have different gaits, and they can switch between them when needed. Rattlesnakes have a special gait, sidewinding, to help them climb on sandy hills.  Scientists studied a sidewinder rattlesnake species Crotalus cerastes, which is found in Southwestern United States. They monitored the snake as it moved at Zoo Atlanta, where its large enclosure is filled with sand from the Arizona desert.

Robot snake can now climb sandy hills

Scientists used high-speed video cameras to understand how rattlesnakes moved their bodies. They found that the snakes were able to climb sandy slopes by increasing the amount of their body in contact with the sand. They applied the learning on a robot snake made at Carnegie Mellon University. The robotic snake was previously unable to climb sandy hills.

But after researchers programmed with the wave motion used by rattlesnakes, it was able to climb sandy inclinations of up to 20 degrees. Before the study, it was unable to climb sandy slopes of even 10 degrees. The robot snake has 16 joints and 17 aluminum links, according to Reuters. It is 37 inches long and 2 inches in diameter.