Scientists recently put roaches to new use. They were so impressed with the tiny bugs’ speed, sneakiness and skill to evade dangers that they developed a tiny robot that mimics the insects’ every move. Researchers hope that the cockroach-inspired mini-bot may soon provide disaster relief.
The research team explained that they drew inspiration from the bugs’ amazing body contortion abilities to create a prototype robot that may someday help search-and-rescue crews find people caught under rubble in the wake of a major disaster.
Robert Full, lead author of the study, recently said that the cockroach, which is by far one of the nature’s most repulsive animals, could inspire scientists to create a fleet of robots that may rescue thousands of lives after a disaster.
But before they designed the robot they first had to study the pests.
They collected a series of American cockroaches and watched them overcome obstacles and run through extremely tight locations. Surprisingly, even when the space was so compressed that they could only speed with their tiny legs splayed against the walls, they could run at 1,200 body lengths per minute. On a human scale, that would be 70 miles per hour.
The tiny animals were also very resilient when a lot of pressure was forced upon their bodies. Researchers found that the critters usually withstand weights that are 900 times their own weight.
Researchers explained that the secret of such feats lies with their exoskeleton which is connected much like an origami figure. Scientists found that the insects have very sturdy plates on their bodies but the connectivity between those plates is highly flexible. This is how the plates can be flattened without being crushed.
When there is a tight space where they need to squeeze in, the insects do not lose speed even though they have to splay out their legs due to an ingenious method of using friction against upper and lower surfaces to their own benefit.
The mini-bot called Compressible Robot with Articulated Mechanisms, in short CRAM, was able to reproduce the insects’ abilities to slip through seemingly impossible cracks and travel through impossibly tight spaces without losing speed. Engineers designed an exoskeleton for the robotic bug very similar to what they saw in cockroaches.
The bot could be handy in disasters where rescue teams need info on possible survivors or leaks inside a damaged building without further collapsing it. Scientists dream of the day when swarms of CRAM bots would be deployed to search and beam back data on disaster survivors’ location and status.
A study on the robot and cockroaches’ abilities was published Feb. 8 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Image Source: Wikimedia