Uncle Sam is programmed with a variety of different "gaits", or types of movement patterns, which are based on the real-life behavior of real-life snakes. The goal is to create a modular—and, thus, relatively simple to produce and scale—robot that can get to and through places where people, and less-willies-inducing robots, can't maneuver.
Maggie Koerth-Baker is the science editor at BoingBoing.net. She writes a monthly column for The New York Times Magazine and is the author of Before the Lights Go Out, a book about electricity, infrastructure, and the future of energy. You can find Maggie on Twitter and Facebook.