New Technology Inspired by Cockroaches During Disasters

Categories: Tech, Gadgets

Cockroaches may seem like a nuisance, but in harnessing their stealth ability to contort their bodies and slip through the smallest of cracks, researchers have created a robot that could one day assist in search-and-rescue missions.

In the latest study, researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, put real American cockroaches (Periplaneta americana) through a barrage of tests to evaluate their unique skills. What researchers found has inspired the innovative CRAM robot (compressible robot with articulated mechanisms) that looks and acts like a sneaky roach, according to a news release.

"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, who recently obtained his Ph.D. from UC Berkeley and is now a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University. "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 a high-speed camera, researchers filmed roaches dashing through narrow crevices. The video showed that when the insects flattened their bodies, they no longer used their feet to run, but instead relied on the hair-like sensory spines on their legs to push against the floor and propel them forward. Even more impressively, Jayaram found roaches traversing crevices can withstand forces 900 times their body weight without injury.

The simple and cheap roach-inspired robot is about the size of one's palm and equipped with a smooth, tough, and pliable shell that allows the robot to squish down to half its height and spread its leg out to the side when compressed.

"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," Robert Full, a professor of integrative biology at UC Berkeley, explained in the university's release. "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."

While the CRAM robot is only a prototype, researchers say the next step is creating more robust versions for real-world testing.

Their study was recently published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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