Optimizing snake locomotion in the plane

Silas Alben


We develop a numerical scheme to determine which planar snake motions are optimal for locomotory efficiency, across a wide range of frictional parameter space. For a large coefficient of transverse friction, we show that retrograde travelling waves are optimal. We give an asymptotic analysis showing that the optimal wave amplitude decays as the Embedded Image power of the coefficient of transverse friction. This result agrees well with the numerical optima. At the other extreme, zero coefficient of transverse friction, we propose a triangular direct wave that is optimal. Between these two extremes, a variety of complex, locally optimal motions are found. Some of these can be classified as standing waves (or ratcheting motions).

  • Received April 15, 2013.
  • Accepted August 2, 2013.
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