We've seen lots of humanoid robots recently like Manoi, Robosapien, Asimo and other robots like the Roboraptor dinosaur and the Robopet dog. But what about something more serpentine, something that crawls on its belly, like maybe a snake?
Atilla Kilicarslan at the Istanbul Technical University is trying to do just that, and has taken a very interesting approach to the problem. His master's thesis (see the link below) reviews some of the history of mobile snake like robots, and why he feels that although the efforts so far have been great, in the end they have fallen short of the mark.
His approach focuses on the natural interaction that a snakes body movement (undulation - I never could pronounce that word correctly) has with the surface it's moving across, and how a significant part of that movement, and the force that produce it, is lateral.
He also observes that in a natural environment, as opposed to the laboratory, a snakes highly articulated backbone allows it to adjust to, and even take advantage of uneven surfaces. After reading his thesis, it's easy to visualize a wheeled or bipedal robot being stopped cold when it tries to get off the beaten path, while a undulating (there's that word again) robot snake would not only keep going, it might actually make more progress than on clear, flat ground.
His website includes background information, very interesting photos of his prototypes, and even video clips.