Over the past few years we’ve seen emergency services and the US military take inspiration from the natural world to create next-gen robots. They’ve come to includea rapid-response robot based on the cheetah, and a unit that can jump like a sand flea. Now, a team from the University of California at Berkeley is looking at cockroaches and geckos to create a new range of search and rescue droids.

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In order to replicate how a cockroach can flip under a ledge and crawl, the UC Berkeley robotics experts built a six-legged robot called DASH (Dynamic Autonomous Sprawled Hexapod)and added Velcro strips to the legs. The creature’s stealth abilities were also noted in order to give DASH similar abilities.

In their study published the online, open-access journalPLoS ONE, graduate student Jean-Michel Mongeau of UC Berkeley’s biophysics group said he and his group noted how cockroaches used their antennae to sense and cross gaps.

“As we made the gap wider, they would end up on the underside of the ramp,” Mongeau said. “To the naked eye, it wasn’t clear what was happening, but when we filmed them with a high-speed camera and slowed it down, we were amazed to see that it was the cockroach’s hind legs grabbing the surface that allowed it to swing around under the ledge.”

Geckos do similar thins by using their hook-like toenails to swing under ledges and crawl away. Working with Robert Full, a professor of integrative biology, the Berkeley team were able to replicate this natural life behaviour in DASH.

“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,” said Ron Fearing, UC Berkeley professor of electrical engineering and computer science, who led the team. “All this must be put together into a complete package to understand what goes into these animals’ extraordinary maneuverability.”

“Today, some robots are good at running, some at climbing, but very few are good at both or transitioning from one behaviour to the other,” he said. “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.”

It is hoped that the team’s findings will produce not only better robots, but ones that will be able to save lives.


+ University of Berkeley

Via Discovery News