Simulated Sand Dune Test Apparatus Reveals Sidewinder Snake Motion for Robotics

Researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology, Carnegie Mellon University, Oregon State University, and Zoo Atlanta have discovered that sidewinder snakes improve their ability to traverse sandy slopes by simply increasing the amount of their body area in contact with the granular surfaces they're climbing. At Zoo Atlanta, the researchers created a simulated sand dune test apparatus. The enclosure could be raised to create different angles in the sand, and air could be blown into the chamber from below, smoothing the sand after each snake was studied. Motion of the snakes was recorded using high-speed video cameras which helped the researchers understand how the animals were moving their bodies. The principles used by the sidewinders to gracefully climb sand dunes were also tested using a modular snake robot developed at Carnegie Mellon. Before the study, the snake robot could use one component of sidewinding motion to move across level ground, but was unable to climb the inclined sand trackway the real snakes could readily ascend. When the robot was programmed with the unique wave motion discovered in the sidewinders, it was able to climb slopes that had previously been unattainable.