Considering their relatively tiny size, cockroaches are pretty darn invincible. Having evolved as scavengers able to operate in some seriously unsanitary conditions, these natural survivors have a hard-shelled durability that would make most other living organisms envious. It’s no wonder that roboticists have selected these small-but-mighty critters as their inspiration for a new kind of robot.
Developed by an international team of researchers from the United States and China, the “roachbot” can withstand impressively heavy loads of up to 1 million times its own body weight, climb slopes, and move at speeds equivalent to seven body lengths per second.
“The original motivation of this project [was] to develop an ultra-fast-responding and robust soft robot that can have potential application in disaster relief, in a simple and low-cost way,” Junwen Zhong, a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, told Digital Trends. “Cockroaches are a kind of annoying pest, but they are super-strong and can move very fast. It’s not easy to kill them, and they can appear at every corner of your home. These features of cockroaches [inspired] us.”
The diminutive roachbot measures just 10 millimeters in length. It’s made of flexible and soft materials, with a simple structure consisting of a curved body with one leg, and is driven by an alternating current. But that straightforward design gives it some impressive qualities not unlike its real-life inspiration.
“Currently, the robot can at least stand 10x [the equivalent of] squashing by a foot,” Zhong said. “However, squashing will decrease its moving speed about 50% of its original speed after squashing. We think that the design principle, driving mechanism and operating characteristics can be further optimized and extended for improved performances, as well as for other soft robots.”
There’s still more the team hopes to do with the robot to develop it. At present, thin cables are needed to provide it with power. That’s fine in a lab setting, but would make the robot a whole lot less feasible to use in a real-world environment. That’s particularly true if it was somehow to be modified for disaster settings, where power may not be in ready supply.
“[In future work], we want to integrate a battery and control circuit with the robot,” Zhong said. “Moreover, we want to make the robot carry small sensors, like a gas sensor, to endow [it] with rich functions.” The team hopes that such a gas sensor could be used to scout out the location of potentially harmful gas leakages that put human lives in danger.
A paper describing the research was recently published in the journal Science Robotics.