Inspiration from a Snake that Flies

Research by Jake Socha

Flying snakes are the only limbless animals that have conquered the air. These tree snakes from South and Southeast Asia are able to leap from a perch, flatten the body, and undulate from side to side, looking like a serpent swimming through the air. They glide downward at angle and land safely, despite the lack of legs or feet to break the fall. Research on flying snakes aims to answer the question, what does it take for a cylindrical animal to be able to jump, glide, and land?

Live animal experiments are combined with physical experiments and computational modeling to understand how this limbless locomotor can produce forces and control its body throughout multiple forms of movement. This effort requires an understanding of the snake’s aerodynamics, musculoskeletal biomechanics, and neuro-motor control system. The main objective of this research is to understand how the snake works from a fundamental perspective, but it will also create a basis for new applications in snake-like robots that not only slither and crawl through tight spaces, but climb and glide on command.

A gliding snake in flight.