Researchers design robo-roaches that can climb walls

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Cockroaches don’t swerve when they see a wall – they crash into it. 

The force from the collision is used by the clever insects to launch themselves up vertical surfaces.

Now, scientists have taken inspiration from the humble cockroach to create a terrifying robot that can climb up walls.   

‘Cockroaches running at over 1 metre (3.28 feet) or 50 body lengths per second transition from the floor to a vertical wall within 75 milliseconds by using their head like a car bumper, mechanically mediating the manoeuvre,’ researchers at the University of California, Berkeley wrote in their study published today. 

Inspired by this cockroach movement, the researchers developed their own model robotic cockroaches. 

The robot, called DASH (Dynamic Autonomous Sprawled Hexapod Robot), which consists of a rectangular platform with six legs.

It’s able to run towards a wall at high-speed, collide and dissipate energy, and bounce back to shift from a horizontal to a vertical position.

The researchers suggest that bots that bots below 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) should be able to use this manoeuvre collision manoeuvre.  

Previous research by the Berkeley researchers has also explored other aspects of cockroach movement. 

In a previous project, they developed another type of palm-sized, cockroach inspired robots that could assist in future search-and-rescue missions to find survivors of disasters.  

The bot has a similarly tough but flexible exoskeleton compared to cockroaches, and is suited to scurrying rapidly through tightly-packed debris.

Its soft legs and articulated shell allow it to compress to more than half its size, so it could squeeze through the narrowest of cracks. 

This would allow rescue workers to find and reach survivors stuck in confirmed spaces beneath collapsed buildings.

In order to design this bot, the researchers studied how the rigid but jointed exoskeletons of cockroaches allow them to invade almost any space. 

‘Our discoveries from cockroaches inspired the design of a soft, legged hexapod robot named “compressible robot with articulated mechanisms” (CRAM) that we built using laser-cutting, laminating, and the folding of exoskeletal-like plates,’ said Kaushik Jayaram and Robert Full, researchers at the University of California, Berkeley’s Department of Integrative Biology who conducted the study. 

To measure the limits of the insects’ abilities, the two researchers constructed an obstacle course for American cockroaches.

They found they are capable of slipping through a space smaller than a quarter of their standing body height in less than one second, and they do this by compressing their exoskeleton. 

‘Jointed exoskeletons permit rapid appendage-driven locomotion but retain the soft-bodied, shape-changing ability to explore confined environments,’ the pair wrote in the journal PNAS.

The researchers also altered the friction of the ceiling and ground in the obstacle course.

They found that cockroaches can quickly navigate in confined spaces at speeds of approximately 20 body lengths per second using a method the scientists dubbed ‘body-friction-legged crawling’ where the insects squeeze though a gap head-first.

It was these discoveries that led the researchers to build their own artificial version of the American cockroach, mimicking its biology in ‘soft robotics’. 

A team at North Carolina State University also investigated cockroach-focused ways of aiding rescue worked in disaster zones, but they used real cockroaches outfitted with backpacks that can enable researchers to steer cockroaches.

These backpacks also contain microphones intended to pick up sounds such as people calling for help. 

 

 

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