Thursday, June 20, 2024

YouTuber’s ‘bionic snake’ defies Bible, goes viral

In a YouTube video uploaded on August 13, maker and self-professed “failed mythbuster” Allen Pan said he was committed to “giving snakes [their] legs back” by designing a set of robot legs for the legless creatures:

In two short days since the video was uploaded, it received over 1.6 million views.

According to the biblical Book of Genesis, snakes lost their legs as a punishment for tempting Eve to eat of the Fruit of the Tree of Life: “The Lord God said to the serpent: …on your belly you shall go, and you shall eat dust all the days of your life.”

Meanwhile, according to the American Museum of Natural History, snakes did indeed evolve from lizard-like ancestors with legs that lived over 100 million years ago. Vestigial remnants of this ancestry can be found in some snakes living today, such as pythons, which have still have small claw-like limbs on their bodies.

The aptly-named “Sonic hedgehog” gene prompts pythons to develop legs – and is still present today in these animals. According to National Geographic, all it takes for pythons to grow limbs is for this dormant gene to be reactivated.

While Pan’s prototype was successful in mimicking lizards’ gait and walk, it’s still run by an external controller. The biggest challenge is to have the snake itself control the legs, enabling the creature to freely go where it wants to.

This is not the first time that such cybernetic animal interfaces have been attempted. In 2008, US researchers found a way to directly wire a monkey brain up to a robot arm.

However, the control interface need not be so invasive, according to Engr. Johnaray Dimaunahan, external vice president of Philippine-based Philrobotics. “Theoretically, non-intrusive electrodes can be stuck onto the snakes’ body, but some snakes might still not like that,” he told Newsbytes.PH.

The bigger problem, according to Dimaunahan, is understanding and detecting the patterns of muscle movement that a snake undertakes when it wants to move in a particular direction, then translating these patterns into machine instructions that the robot limbs can understand and execute.

“The electric signals generated by the snake’s muscle movements have to be amplified and processed by a microcontroller in order to generate a specific set of leg movements – whether it’s crawling left, right, or going straight,” Dimaunahan explained.

More recently and a bit more whimsically, in January 2022, Israeli researchers found a way for a goldfish to drive its own electric car.


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