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Some surprises in self-propulsion via self-deformation: snake scattering & supersmarticles

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GFSW01 - Form and deformation in solid and fluid mechanics

I will discuss two examples from our recent work in animal and robot locomotion (i.e. self-propulsion via self-deformation). First, our studies of snake locomotion in heterogeneous environments have revealed  new collisional dynamics; we have used these dynamics to infer neuromechanical control templates in desert specialist snakes. That is, we have discovered that when transiting a linear array of posts, certain snakes and snake-like robots passively “scatter” into preferred directions, the extent of which is inversely related to the post spacing; these systems thus mimic diffraction dynamics of subatomic particles. A minimal model predicts that the animal operates in an open-loop scheme, whereby perturbation rejection via hypothesized fixed muscle activation patterns and passive body properties can generate the observed scattering patterns. Second, I will discuss how, inspired by the fact that all metazoans are composed of hierarchically organized living systems (cells), we have begun to construct a robot which is made of other robots. We developed a phototaxing stochastic locomotor composed of simple non-motile robots called “smarticles”. Although no single smarticle can locomote, when confined into a ring, the collective (the “supersmarticle”) diffuses randomly through collisions among continuously self-deforming smarticles and the ring; directed self-propulsion can be effected if a smarticle at the edge becomes inactive via light or sound cues.

This talk is part of the Isaac Newton Institute Seminar Series series.

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