Image: Shutterstock

Look, I didn’t want to write this. Centipedes have too many legs and they move so quickly and it’s all just fucking nasty and wrong.

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However, how these disgusting creatures move is of interest to scientists, including some at Kyoto University who used computer simulations and robotics to delve into this strange movement. With so many legs, why does it move from side to side?

The answer is in gravity. The centipede’s many legs are in contact with the ground as it moves, but with all of that, it’s still being constrained by gravity. The centipede therefore swerve back and forth as it walks. It’s referred to as “harnessing instability.”

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The team, led by scientist Shinya Aoi, used computer models for the design stage and then built multi-legged robots to replicate the centipede’s movement. They published their findings in Scientific Reports this week.

“Our group developed a mathematical model of centipedes and found that the straight walk becomes unstable and body undulations appear through a supercritical Hopf bifurcation by changing the locomotion speed and body axis flexibility,” Aoi said.

Two of these are less creepy than the other. Image: Kyoto University

These findings not only provide more insight into the locomotion of other creatures, but also can be helpful for designing multi-legged robots. The study cites previous attempts at producing robots that move similarly to centipedes—such as ones based on snakes—but they weren’t that maneuverable, due to having to be able to avoid falling down.

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“Until now, no design principle has been proposed for the control of robots with many legs to create maneuverable locomotion,” the authors wrote.

So in the future, I suppose you can expect not just a centipede rapidly moving its way towards your feet, but also centipede robots. As if the future wasn’t horrifying enough.

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[EurekAlert]