Cockroach-inspired robot can squeeze through tight spaces

The US Army actually funded the robot cockroach, which has a hard outer “shell” that conceals scurrying “legs” beneath.

In order for the robotic cockroach to wiggle through crevices just like its organic brethren, the robot cockroach has been endowed with a rounded back, hence making it automatically a whole lot better to get through narrow gaps. But in nature, cockroaches and other small animals often have to navigate environments littered with grass, shrubs and trees.

Li said the design could be useful for designing robots for search-and-rescue missions or precision agriculture, since it could let robots move through thick vegetation or rubble without the need for extra sensors or complex navigational programs.

In a study published in the journal Bioinspiration & Biomimetics, researchers used high-speed cameras to study how cockroaches traversed an obstacle course composed of narrowly-spaced, grass-like vertical beams. Each of the live cockroaches was fitted with a different artificial shell to see how its movement was impacted by body shape.

Since they can’t use the adept moves of very small insects, large, sophisticated robots – like MIT’s Cheetah robot and the military’s Wildcat robot – use laser sensors and computers to map out their environment and plan a path around obstacles.

When the cockroaches were unmodified, the researchers found that, although they sometimes pushed through the beams or climbed over them, they most frequently used a fast and effective roll manoeuvre to slip through the obstacles. A combination of sensors and algorithms help many current robots successfully get around obstacles. “First, when the terrain becomes densely cluttered, a clear path can not be planned because obstacles are just too close to each other”.

Then the researchers glued these shells onto a rectangular, six-legged robot called the VelociRoACH. Most of the time, it ended up getting stuck. Bottom: Adding a rounded shell like the roach’s enables the robot to move like its insect inspiration. Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley have created a cockroach-inspired robot that scurries across the ground and uses its body shape to maneuver through densely cluttered environments. When one of these shelled robots encounters a cluster of dense obstacles, the shape of shell helps to re-orient the robot. This adaptive behavior came about with no change to the robot programming, showing that the behavior came from the shell itself.

Other terrestrial robots have been developed with the ability to avoid obstacles, but few have been designed to traverse them.


p style=”text-align: center;”>New cockroach-inspired robot can traverse obstacles


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