Scalybot 2 was designed after Georgia Tech researchers studied the movements of snakes. Image: Georgia Tech
Designing an all-terrain robot for search-and-rescue missions is an arduous
task for scientists. The machine must be flexible enough to move over uneven
surfaces, yet not so big that it’s restricted from tight spaces. It might also
be required to climb slopes of varying inclines. Existing robots can do many of
these things, but the majority require large amounts of energy and are prone to
overheating. Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) researchers have
designed a new machine by studying the locomotion of a certain type of flexible,
“By using their scales to control frictional properties, snakes are able to
move large distances while exerting very little energy,” said Hamid Marvi, a mechanical
engineering PhD candidate at Georgia Tech.
While studying and videotaping the movements of 20 different species at Zoo
Atlanta, Marvi developed 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,” explained Marvi. “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. This adjustment allows 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.
“Snakes are highly maligned creatures,” said Joe Mendelson, curator of
herpetology at Zoo Atlanta. “I really like that Hamid’s research is showing the
public that snakes can help people.”
Marvi’s advisor is David Hu, an assistant professor in the Schools of
Mechanical Engineering and Biology. Hu and his research team are primarily
focused on animal locomotion. They’ve studied how dogs and other animals shake
water off their bodies and how mosquitos fly through rainstorms.
This isn’t the first time Hu’s laboratory has looked at snake locomotion.
Last summer the team developed Scalybot 1, a two-link climbing robot that
replicates concertina locomotion. The push-and-pull, accordion-style movement
features alternating scale activity.