Cockroach-inspired robotics may soon help locate disaster victims.
Scientists have developed small search-and-rescue robots to be used after disasters such as earthquakes to slither in and out through piles of debris, looking for survivors and victims, according to a Reuters story.
Calling cockroaches one of nature’s most revolting animals, Robert Full, an integrative biology professor at the University of California-Berkeley (UCB), said, the animals can teach scientists important design principles.
The effort began by constructing a cockroach obstacle course, and observing how the animals maneuvered in and out of the tiny cracks, by compressing their exoskeletons to half their thickness. Once inside the cracks in the course, the cockroaches were able to rapidly move around with their legs out to their sides, at speeds of up to 20 body lengths per second.
That speed, if scaled to a human, would be about 70 miles per hour, according to Kaushik Jayaram, a biologist at Harvard University, who worked on the research while he was at UCB. That is over twice the speed of the average sprinter.
Experts have been looking to the animal kingdom for design ideas for quite a while. For example, the movements of the sidewinder rattlesnake inspired the creation of a serpentine-like robot. Professor Full added, nature has a library of design ideas, and he says you never know where the basic research will lead. Some of the most important discoveries come from the most disgusting creatures, and from unexpected sources, he continued.
In this case, the American cockroach was the inspiration for a robotic device called Compressible Robot with Articulated Mechanisms (CRAM). The prototype is a soft-bodied, multi-legged, robot, that the scientists hope to one day use by sending swarms of them into collapsed buildings, trying to locate survivors quickly after disasters, like earthquakes, storms on explosions.
The device, about 7 inches long and three inches tall and weighing only 1.6 ounces, can re-orient its legs and use the body-compression technique observed in the cockroaches to maneuver through vertical as well as horizontal tight spaces, according to Jayaram.
These types of disgusting creatures may be a welcome sight to someone trapped underneath a pile of rubble one day soon.
The research from the team was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.