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Watch a robotic snake use its scales to slither forward

The Harvard researchers behind the project aren't trying to creep you out, but they probably will anyway.

The roboticists of Harvard like things that are creepy crawly.

First came the cockroach-inspired robot. Now there's a giant inflatable snake inching its way through Harvard Yard.

A team of researchers from the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) developed the soft robot, which uses friction-assisted locomotion inspired by the scales of a snake.

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A snake's scales, it turns out, are essential to its ability to slither. As a snake pushes its body forward, its scales grip the ground, propelling it ahead.

The snake-inspired robot uses no rigid materials. The researchers started with a flexible sheet of plastic and laser cut thin slits in the shape of scales.

"There has been a lot of research in recent years into how to fabricate these kinds of morphable, stretchable structures," said Ahmad Rafsanjani, a postdoctoral fellow at SEAS and first author of a recent paper on the research, published in Science Robotics.

The method of cutting out the scales was inspired by kirigami, a Japanese paper craft that uses cuts to make three-dimensional surfaces.

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"We have shown that kirigami principles can be integrated into soft robots to achieve locomotion in a way that is simpler, faster, and cheaper than most previous techniques."

Once the skin was prepared, the researchers wrapped it around an actuator that expands and contracts like a long skinny balloon. When the actuator expands, the sheet stretches, causing the scales to flare out and grip the ground.

When the actuator contracts again, the snake robot is propelled forward.