February 24, 2018 - 16:03 AMT
New robot with artificial scales can slither just like a snake

Robots are getting stronger, faster and more flexible than people every day. The last few months have brought us superhuman robots that can skirt across water, lift 1,000 times their own weight and, a little more prosaically, open doors.

Now, researchers have created a robot that can slither just like a snake. Using artificial scales inspired by paper-cutting art, the soft robot wiggles along the ground untethered, Newsweek says.

The robot's creators think the design could eventually be used for search and rescue missions and even keyhole surgery.

The research was published in Science Robotics.

The morphable robot is really an elastic tube which swells and shrinks with air. Sliced plastic scales transform the skin into an adaptable 3-D surface.

The artificial scales mimic snakeskin, which allows the creatures to propel themselves forward along the ground, through small cracks and even up into trees.

The researchers used principles of “kirigami”—a variation of origami, which uses cuts rather than folds. Lasers sliced small cuts into a plastic sheet, which the team wrapped around the elastic tube.

When the tube expands, the kirigami scales pop out and grip the ground like snakeskin. When it shrinks, the skin becomes flat, propelling the tube forward.

Different cuts lead to different styles of slithering. A trapezoidal pattern, the researchers found, gave the robot a longer stride.