Watch a snake walk in a four-legged robot suit

3 mins
16 Aug 2022
Watch a snake walk in a four-legged robot suit

Science vlogger Allen Pan wants to give serpents ‘their legs back’ – watch that python go!

image Brian Caissie / Getty

words Megan Wallace

If you know us, you’ll know we’re a fan of our furry friends, from cats who like watching video games to bears who can’t keep their hands out of the psychedelic honey jar. Another thing we can’t get enough of? Weird and wacky technology, including cutting-edge sex toys and AI creating images of rappers in the style of Renaissance paintings.

The latest in “I’m not sure if I’m reading this correctly” news happens to combine both of those things – it's a robotic exoskeleton that revolutionises how snakes move. Specifically, science vlogger Allen Pan has made a 3D-printed contraption to help snakes shift from slithering to walking. He uploaded a YouTube video of his endeavour on 13 August and, at the time of writing, it currently has over 2.2 million views.

Why exactly would anyone do this? Well, in a previous video, Pan caught and released a wild snake – something which was deemed “animal cruelty” in the comments. To seemingly make up for this, he has set out to prove he is a “snake lover” by endeavouring to do one unsuspecting python a solid.

According to researchers, approximately 150 million years ago snakes had legs and used their limbs to walk around, before they developed without them. Scientists argue that the “molecular machinery” for leg development still exists in serpents, it’s just dormant, and some snakes even have two little bumps on either side of their pelvis – where former generations of their species once had legs. Pan explained that he "feel[s] bad for snakes" due to the fact "they lost their legs" in this evolutionary process and wanted to reverse this process. As you do.

Naturally(-ish), as a science YouTuber, he turned to DIY robotics to make this happen and began to design a model which might make this a reality. After some trouble-shooting (his failed attempts, where he used a toy snake for practice, are included in the video) he settled on a tube-like model with two moveable robotic feet at each end. The thinking is that the snake can slither into the tube and walk in a similar fashion to a lizard.

For the grand finale, he tried out the structure using a yellow python borrowed from a local snake breeder and despite some initial reluctance to slide inside the exoskeleton, she eventually tried out the “legs” and seems to be quite comfortable on her new legs.

Who knows, maybe the snakes do “want their legs back”? Check out the full video below to decide for yourself...

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