Sidewinding with minimal slip: Snake and robot ascent of sandy slopes

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Science  10 Oct 2014:
Vol. 346, Issue 6206, pp. 224-229
DOI: 10.1126/science.1255718

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Limbless organisms such as snakes can navigate nearly all terrain. In particular, desert-dwelling sidewinder rattlesnakes (Crotalus cerastes) operate effectively on inclined granular media (such as sand dunes) that induce failure in field-tested limbless robots through slipping and pitching. 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. Plate drag experiments demonstrate that granular yield stresses decrease with increasing incline angle. Together, these three approaches demonstrate how sidewinding with contact-length control mitigates failure on granular media.

What's that coming over the hill—is it a robot?

Crossing a slope can be difficult, particularly if it is made of sand. Sidewinder rattlesnakes manage to climb sandy hills by adjusting the length of their body in contact with the sand. Marvi et al. designed robots based on this idea to determine what affects climbing ability on sandy slopes (see the Perspective by Socha). Based on the behavior of the robots, the authors performed further animal studies, and used an iterative approach to improve the robots' capabilities and to better understand animal motion.

Science, this issue p. 224; see also p. 160

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