When most people see a cockroach, the first thing they would do is call an exterminator. For researchers at UC Berkeley, they'd build a robot that mimics the insect's impressive agility instead.
The biology and robotics departments worked together to build the cockroach-like robots.
“This work is a great example of the amazing maneuverability of animals, and how understanding the physical principles used by nature can inspire design of agile robots,” Ron Fearing, a professor of electrical engineering and computer science at UC Berkeley, told PC World.
First, they made a video of a cockroach flipping itself over the ledge. It happens so fast, they had to slow the video down in order to make out what was happening. The cockroach goes over the ledge, but grips the ledge with its legs at the last second, flipping it over to the other side.
The researchers decided to build a robot, the Dynamic Autonomous Sprawled Hexapod, or DASH, that could also do the same thing.
The high-tech robot uses a low-tech solution for gripping the ledge: velcro attached to its legs. In a video produced by the university, the DASH appears to be successful, running over the ledge and flipping over to the other side.
The researchers aren't doing this simply because they think its fun. The research has serious implications.
“Today, some robots are good at running, some at climbing, but very few are good at both or transitioning from one behavior to the other," Robert Full, professor of integrated biology at UC Berkeley, told PC World. "That's really the challenge now in robotics, to produce robots that can transition on complex surfaces and get into dangerous areas that first responders can't get into.”
The ability to crawl through rubble where humans can't is important in earthquake-prone California.
It could also mean big money. The U.S. Defense Department's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has announced its Robotics Challenge, giving away up to $34 million in prize money. Of that amount, $2 million goes to the winning team that can build robots to serve in disaster operations too dangerous for people, such as the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan that suffered a meltdown after the earthquake and tsunami in 2011.
The agency is especially interested in robots that can drive vehicles, navigate hazardous terrain, and use tools meant for humans.
Edited by Brooke Neuman