Inspired by the sandfish lizard, researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology are collaborating with Northwestern University's Paul Umbanhowar to develop a snake-like robot that can swim through sand. When the sandfish lizard is submerged in sand, the animal tucks its limbs into its sides and moves forward by wiggling from side to side. The researchers created a computer model of the sandfish lizard that showed a snake-like robot with seven body segments that could travel through a granular medium such as sand.
The researchers built a robot that is 35 centimeters long and features seven aluminum segments linked by six motors, which are covered in spandex to prevent the motors from becoming jammed. When the robot undulates its body at a frequency similar to the lizard, it can move forward at speeds of up to 0.3 body lengths per wave cycle. The team would have to add more jointed segments to match the 0.4 body lengths per cycle that a submerged lizard can achieve.
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