PerspectiveApplied Physics

Of snakes and robots

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Science  10 Oct 2014:
Vol. 346, Issue 6206, pp. 160-161
DOI: 10.1126/science.1259970

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As anyone who has run up a sand dune can attest from burning calves, climbing a sandy slope is demanding. The root of the struggle—in animal and vehicle alike—comes from the behavior of the sand, a granular medium that can slip, slide, and flow like a fluid. Yet, desert-dwelling snakes can ascend sandy slopes with grace and energetic ease (1) through a process called sidewinding. Having no limbs to push off should make the matter worse, yet the snakes make it look simple. How do they do it? On page 224 of this issue, Marvi et al. (2) explore the physics of sidewinding in animal and robot, revealing how limbless locomotors can move up sandy slopes.