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Snake Movement Inspires Robot Maker

ATLANTA, Jan. 19 (UPI) — U.S. researchers say they’re studying the locomotion of a flexible, efficient animal, the snake, to improve all-terrain robots for search-and-rescue missions.

Scientists at Georgia Tech say a successful robot must be flexible enough to move across uneven surfaces yet not so big it’s restricted from tight spaces, and might also be required to climb slopes of varying inclines.

Existing robots can do many of these things but most require large amounts of energy and are prone to overheating.

Thus the study of a creature that gets about using very little energy at all, researchers said.

“By using their scales to control frictional properties, snakes are able to move large distances while exerting very little energy,” mechanical engineer Hamid Marvi said in a Georgia Tech release Thursday.

Studying and videotaping the movements of 20 different species at Zoo Atlanta has helped Marvi develop Scalybot 2, a robot that replicates rectilinear locomotion of snakes.

“During rectilinear locomotion, a snake doesn’t have to bend its body laterally to move,” Marvi said. “Snakes lift their ventral scales and pull themselves forward by sending a muscular traveling wave from head to tail.

“Rectilinear locomotion is very efficient and is especially useful for crawling within crevices, an invaluable benefit for search-and-rescue robots.”

Scalybot 2 can automatically change the angle of its scales when it encounters different terrains and slopes, Marvi said, allowing the robot to either fight or generate friction. The two-link robot is controlled by a remote-controlled joystick and can move forward and backward using four motors.

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