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ROBOT TROUSER SNAKE stiffens to master slippery mounds

Boffins overjoyed at performance of slithery tool

Scientists say their new snake robot has cracked the tricky problem of slithering up slippery mounds.

The trouser(ed) snake robot

This undeniable pushing-back of the frontiers of science comes to us courtesy of Professor Daniel Goldman's Complex Rheology And Biomechanics Lab ("the Crab Lab") at the Georgia Institute of Technology in the US.

Goldman and his Crabby colleagues were determined to find out just how it is that the enigmatic "sidewinder" rattlesnakes of America manage to squirm their way up slippery sand dunes, a notoriously tricky form of terrain to get about on - and which leaves other snakes baffled.

After a good deal of investigation, which involved painting reflective spots on some surprisingly cooperative rattlesnakes and videoing them in action, the good prof and his Crabs managed to crack the sidewinders' methods. They proved this by applying them to snakey robots furnished by colleagues at the famous mad-robot labs of Carnegie Mellon university, pictured above. The basic robot, as shown, is clad in a textile wrapping or trouser in order to keep sand out of its works - in much the same fashion as Israeli military robots employing a similar form factor.

Goldman and his colleagues write:

Our laboratory experiments reveal that as granular incline angle increases, sidewinder rattlesnakes increase the length of their body in contact with the sand. Implementing this strategy in a physical robot model of the snake enables the device to ascend sandy slopes close to the angle of maximum slope stability ... sidewinding with contact-length control mitigates failure on granular media.

Videos of the experiments can be viewed here. The scholarly paper itself is in hefty boffinry mag Science, here.

"They've looked at the whole problem, end to end," a robotic engineer told the BBC, reporting on the research. ®

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