Scientists Model New Search and Rescue Robot After the Cockroach


Scientists at the University of California Berkeley have created a new robot that could be used for search and rescue in very tight spaces. And it looks and acts like a cockroach.

Warning: If you are grossed out or nauseated by cockroaches, look away now. The video will make your skin crawl and give you nightmares of things that go crunch in the night (a la Men in Black).

Scientists at the University of California Berkeley are fascinated with the American Roach and its pliability. It can squeeze through small crack, move in tight spaces quickly, withstand tremendous amounts of pressure and is even expected to survive a nuclear holocaust – one that presumably does not involve Ant & Roach spray. So researchers are using the ugly creature as a model of for a search-and-rescue-style robot that can comb effortlessly through rubble after disasters such as earthquakes, tornadoes and explosions.

“What’s impressive about these cockroaches is that they can run as fast through a quarter-inch gap as a half-inch gap, by reorienting their legs completely out to the side,” said study leader Kaushik Jayaram, a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard who recently received his Ph.D. from Berkeley. “They’re about half an inch tall when they run freely, but can squish their bodies to one-tenth of an inch – the height of two stacked pennies.”

Using what he learned from watched the cockroach, he designed the compressible robot with articulated mechanisms, or CRAM for short. He and Robert Full, a professor of integrative biology at UC Berkeley, published their findings in a paper published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Full has been studying how animals walk, crawl, run and jump for more than three decades to better learn locomotion. Robots have been created based on his findings, with legs like those of cockroaches and crabs as well as sticky feet like those of geckos. Full even discovered that roaches can walk on two legs at a speed of 50 times their body length per second. Yes, it was even certified by the Guiness Book of World Records.

“In the event of an earthquake, first responders need to know if an area of rubble is stable and safe, but the challenge is, most robots can’t get into rubble,” Full said. “But if there are lots of cracks and vents and conduits, you can imagine just throwing a swarm of these robots in to locate survivors and safe entry points for first responders.”

The CRAM is only a prototype for now, but Full said soft robots have uses that previously weren’t thought of. “Insects are the most successful animals on earth. Because they intrude nearly everywhere, we should look to them for inspiration as to how to make a robot that can do the same.”

Source: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and UC Berkeley

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