A novel slithering locomotion mechanism for a snake-like soft robot

Yunteng CAO, Yilun LIU*, Youlong CHEN, Liangliang ZHU, Yuan YAN, Xi CHEN*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review

28 Citations (Scopus)


A novel mechanism for slithering locomotion of a snake-like soft robot is presented. A rectangular beam with an isotropic coefficient of friction of its contact surface with the flat ground can move forward or backward when actuated by a periodic traveling sinusoidal wave. The Poisson's ratio of the beam plays an important role in the slithering locomotion speed and direction, particularly when it is negative. A theoretical model is proposed to elucidate the slithering locomotion mechanism, which is analogous to the rolling of a wheel on ground. There are two key factors of slithering locomotion: a rotational velocity field and a corresponding local contact region between the beam and ground. During wriggling motion of the rectangular beam, a rotational velocity field is observed near the maximum curvature point of the beam. If the beam has a negative Poisson's ratio, the axial tension will cause a lateral expansion so that the contact region between the beam and ground is located at the outer edge of the maximum curvature (the largest lateral expansion point). The direction of the beam's velocity at this outer edge is usually opposite to the traveling wave direction, so the friction force propels the beam in the direction of the traveling wave. A similar scenario is found for the relatively large amplitude of wriggling motion when the beam's Poisson's ratio is positive. Finite element method (FEM) simulation was conducted to verify the slithering locomotion mechanism, and good agreement was found between the FEM simulation results and theoretical predictions. The insights obtained here present a simple, novel and straightforward mechanism for slithering locomotion and are helpful for future designs of snake-like soft robots. © 2016 Elsevier Ltd
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)304-320
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of the Mechanics and Physics of Solids
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2017
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Y.L. acknowledges support from the National Natural Science Foundation of China (11302163 and 11572239), and X.C. acknowledges support from the National Natural Science Foundation of China (11572238 and 11372241), ARPA-E (DE-AR0000396) and AFOSR (FA9550-12-1-0159). We thank the anonymous reviewers and the editor for their comments on the manuscript.


  • Poisson's ratio
  • Rotational velocity field
  • Slithering locomotion
  • Snake-like soft robot
  • Traveling wave


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