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)
Everything dates everyone, doesn't it? But I'm with you--I can imagine an engineer looking at Slinky's movements and wondering how to motorize and automate them. First there's a design that uses a helical shape, gravity, and momentum, and then the big jump to motors.
Exactly! That was my first thought, too! I guess that dates us, doesn't it? But it is interesting to see how the movement of that simple toy was a precursor for what's being done in robotics...and that toy moved simply on design alone without actuators. I guess you never know where inspiration will come from or how these things evolve.