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Robot sidewinder snake can climb hills and slopes

Scientists have developed a robotic snake capable of climbing up difficult terrain such as sandy hills and steep inclines.

Researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology, Carnegie Mellon University, Oregon State University, and Zoo Atlanta have developed the technology by analysing real-life sidewinder snakes.

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By studying the venomous snakes, the researchers were able to determine how they are able to traverse difficult granular surfaces with relative ease. Scientists found that the snakes undergo both vertical and horizontal motion when climbing, increasing the amount of their body in contact with the ground.

Daniel Goldman, an associate professor in Georgia Tech's School of Physics, said that the initial plan was to use the robot to gain a better understanding of the snake's behaviour.

"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."

Using this analysis, the team was able to modify their robotic model, which had previously only been able to travel along flat surfaces, enabling it to climb sandy slopes.

The modular robot is made up of 16 joints, each one arranged perpendicular to the one before it, providing the device with a number of different configurations and movements that allow it to mimic the real animal. The artificial snake is two inches in diameter and 37 inches long, making it slightly larger than the average adult sidewinder snake.

Joe Medelson, director of research at Zoo Atlanta, added that the team eventually hopes to develop the robot further, making it capable of movement on all kinds of difficult surfaces, including extraterrestrial terrain.

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"If a robot gets stuck in the sand, that's a problem, especially if that sand happens to be on another planet."