Very few are aware of the fact that Carnegie Mellon is a school that excels in robotics. So it was a real surprise when readme saw a news article talking about a CMU robotics project working to perfect mechanical snakes. As a snake lacks legs, wheels, or treads that might trip it up in bumpy terrain, experts assert its form is ideal for search-and-rescue missions and exploration in unknown terrains.
But not everyone is so convinced of the strength of the design. When informed of the project, CMU mechanical engineering/archaeology double major Indiana Jones could only mutter, “Snakes. Why did it have to be snakes?” Meanwhile, robotics major (with a PhD in Badass) Samuel L. Jackson notes that some environments will still provide difficulty to the robot, saying there’s “no way they’ll get these motherfucking snakes on a motherfucking plain.”
Nonetheless, the team presses on, with a whole host of mechanical widgets to ensure full snake accuracy. The body of the snake is formed of a series of interlocking segments which roll, wiggle, and undulate. It is paired with a remote shaped like a five-foot-long flute and a woven basket carrying case, and its code is all written in Python.
The snake’s history is a long one, full of twists and turns and winding trails. The original, ‘classic’ prototype possessed a very unique design flaw where every time the head touched any other part of its body, the whole snake would disappear and the team would have to start over. Later prototypes corrected this flaw, using a more ‘solid’ design structure, but the resulting snake had an unfortunate habit of hiding under cardboard boxes whenever someone looked at it. Current models still have a gaping security hole where they can be hacked by any twelve-year-old kid with a grasp of Parseltongue.
Researchers have managed, however, to teach their robots how to slither up sandy surfaces, in a breakthrough that triggered the recent wave of media attention. By observing sidewinder rattlesnakes, one of the only snake species with the ability to scale these surfaces, the team was able to unlock the secret of their unique slither. Similar projects slated for the future include observing the specialized swimming motion of the sea snake, the characteristic ‘glide’ of Southeast Asian gliding snakes, and the unique stair-climbing capability of the slinky. The team is already working with a group of oil salesmen from the Tepper School of Business on marketing the machine.