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Thursday
Oct042012

A Lesson in Engineering Made Cool

Working on the Cool Idea! Award, I see a good number of unique ideas. However, one day late last winter, a 50-foot snake showed up on my desk. OK, not literally, but I got an application to the award from a group that was in the midst of creating a robotic replica of the Titanoboa, a snake that lived 50-60 million years ago and holds the title for the largest snake ever discovered. I mean, its name literally means “titanic boa.”

The Canadian team of professional engineers and students had already created a remote-controlled “teenager” version of the snake (40 feet long as opposed to its eventual 50 foot length), equipped with micro controllers, hydraulic cylinders, lithium polymer battery system, and aluminum vertebrae. These come together to allow the person in control to turn the otherwise stationary hunk of metal into a slithering, proportional, modern day re-creation of the prehistoric beast.

The team was looking to expand the range of surfaces on which Titanoboa could operate (at the time it only worked on hard surfaces like concrete) and designed scales for the belly that would attach to the vertebrae and allow it to function on softer surfaces like grass, gravel and sand. To create these, they looked to the Cool Idea! Award. However, there was one minor snafu: the Cool Idea! Award isn’t open to Canadian residents. Luckily enough for us, we were still able to work with them on this project and deliver the scales they ordered through our Protomold injection molding service*.

The addition of the scales is only the beginning in a series of advancements that will take Titanoboa to the next level. Ultimately, the team plans to add the ability to open and close the snake’s mouth, spit “venom,” and make it capable to ride.

Titanoboa seeks to explore alternative forms of propulsion and power applications in transport, and, as the team hopes, could generate interest in the creative aspects of engineering. I don’t know about you, but a 50-foot long, slithering, venom-spewing robotic snake being ridden across the lawn would certainly turn my head.

Titanoboa has received some great media exposure. Most recently, it was featured on the Discovery Channel’s Daily Planet program. Check it out here.

Sarah Braun is a Marketing Program Coordinator at Proto Labs.

 *Read more about their design process and working with Proto Labs.

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Reader Comments (1)

That is COOL indeed!! I'm really glad I'm living now and not when those things were roaming backyards. This is the best case against allowing global warming yet...!

July 28, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew

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