Cockroaches-Mimicking Robots Underway at UC Berkeley and Johns Hopkins

This very moment, there are hundreds of thousands of cockroaches hiding in homes across the United States. These bugs are underneath hardwood floors, they’re scattered throughout kitchen appliances, and they are hiding in cupboards and cabinets, which are typically 12 inches deep. Any homeowner dealing with a cockroach issue should contact a professional exterminator immediately to get rid of these unwanted pests.

Clearly, cockroaches aren’t welcome inside the average home — but what about the a scientific workspace or laboratory?

According to prestigious universities on both coasts of the U.S. (University of California, Berkeley and Johns Hopkins University), cockroaches actually have some scientific purposes.

Cockroaches can survive live underwater for approximately 30 minutes, they can change their direction and fully flip in under 75 microseconds, and can even survive 15,000 times the lethal radiation dose for humans. Cockroaches, clearly, are fascinating creatures and researchers are trying to find ways to study their movements and some creative and innovative technology to revolutionize the robotics industry.

According to SF Gate and The Verge, two new robotic creations, the Dynamic Autonomous Sprawled Hexapod, or DASH, and the CRAM (compressible robot with articulated mechanisms) are mimicking the exact movements and attributes of actual cockroaches.

“We’re in an age of rapid customizable prototyping,” said Robert Full, one of the UC Berkeley scientists behind the CRAM. So we were able to think about the exoskeleton as kind of an origami piece. [Cockroaches] are great at revealing nature’s secrets about design.”

The CRAM was partially funded by the U.S. Army in hopes of developing an effective robot for search-and-rescue missions. The idea of search-and-rescue cockroach missions isn’t entirely new, either. Researchers from North Carolina State University equipped live roaches with tiny microphones and cameras back in 2014 to be used for search purposes following a disaster.

CRAM remains in the prototype stage and has only been tested inside labs.

Another UC Berkeley design, the DASH, created a robot roach that is palm-sized and mimics actual movements of real-life cockroaches. Kaushik Jayaram, a Harvard fellow and recent UC Berkeley PhD graduate, expects this new robotic creation to maneuver across virtually any environment using neural feedback from multimodal sensory systems.

ZME Science reports that in two related papers, researchers from Johns Hopkins studied cockroach movements and then mimicked them for cockroach-sized robots. The hope for these robot roaches is to one day employ them across rough terrain following a disaster or even explore unfamiliar new rerrirotires.

The Johns Hopkins scientists filmed roaches maneuvering through various obstacles and analyzed, mixed, and adapted the footage for the six-legged robots.

“We are just beginning to understand how these critters move through a cluttered 3-D terrain where you have obstacles that are larger than or comparable to the animal or robot’s size,” said Chen Li, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering and senior other of the two papers published in Bioinspiration and Biomimetics.

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