Dr. Gavin Miller designed snake robots like this one using his own funding. He wanted to find out how the highly variable methods snake use to navigate different types of terrain could be applied to robotics. The goal was to develop robots that could take samples, carry sensors, and even make physical changes in different environments, primarily as search-and-rescue aids. Unlike some other robots in this slideshow, Miller's are untethered, so they must carry their own computers and batteries, and they can be easily controlled remotely. SnakeRobots.com shows several generations of Miller's experiments, as well as simulations he developed to refine locomotion strategies. (Source: Gavin Miller/SnakeRobots.com)
Snakes are just cool. Of course, since I live in North America I don't really have any to be especially afraid of. There are only a few venomous snakes, and it's unlikely that a bite would be fatal in any case. If I lived in Australia, where Every Other Stinking Thing You Meet wants to kill you -- and can -- it would be different. The Common Brown snake (so called because it is dirt colored and very common) is the fifth most lethal snake on the planet. I don't even want to VISIT.
Spiders, by and large, are fun. I think the orb weavers and garden spiders are gorgeous. They have such interesting patterns, and they make great inroads on the flying-pest population. Wolf spiders are great to have around outside. And the little jewel-like jumping spiders are fun to play with. They tickle the hairs on the backs of my fingers. Black Widows and I have an understanding: we leave each other alone. I actually encourage them to nest under the house, since they are swift death to roaches and I prefer biological warfare over bug bombs. If they get in the house, I just move 'em back to the crawlspace.
Those brown, spindly spiders, though? They die. Period. They are toxic to humans and basically have no redeeming features, prefering to hide where you are going to put your hands or feet, and bite with little provocation.
Ken, interesting point about fear of snakes. Actually, only some people fear them. I'm not one of them. But spiders absolutely creep me out, and not everyone has that fear either. Some people think it's like a gene allele: you either fear one or the other, but not both.
My kid (thus I) had snakes as 'pets', but it never occurred to me that one might some day get the paper for me!
That said, a 'fear' of snakes is pretty strong and innate in the general population, and I admit to a few internal shudders when looking at these photos.
Real snake locomotion is trully wondrous. I've seen them go right up the trunk of a tree, literally 'look ma, no hands!'. Amazing. I truly admire anyone attempting to mimic it mechanically, they have their work cut out for them.
robatnorcross, I had a similar thought, although I'm not afraid of snakes--unless they're venomous, that is. This one's "skin" pattern is camouflage, but it looks a lot like some venomous western rattlers I've seen. Even without fear of snakes, this would still give one pause if you were trapped and couldn't move.
The engineers and inventors of the post WWII period turned their attention to advancements in electronics, communication, and entertainment. Breakthrough inventions range from LEGOs and computer gaming to the integrated circuit and Ethernet -- a range of advancements that have little in common except they changed our lives.
Neil Fromer is the executive director of the Resnick Institute, a program for energy and sustainability at the California Institute of Technology, working to develop new ideas and research technologies related to providing a sustainable future. He spoke to us about the severity of the current drought in California and how solar energy can help prevent such situations in the future.
Focus on Fundamentals consists of 45-minute on-line classes that cover a host of technologies. You learn without leaving the comfort of your desk. All classes are taught by subject-matter experts and all are archived. So if you can't attend live, attend at your convenience.