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Engineers are researching cockroaches to help build better robots

There’s an old saying that the only creatures that could survive a nuclear blast are cockroaches. While that’s probably wrong, the belief came about because the creepy crawlies are so hard to kill.

So it shouldn’t come as a great shock that robotic engineers and researchers are now using them as the model to build better robots!

For years, researchers have been studying ways to create sturdier machines in order to withstand high pressure, and they might have got a breakthrough by studying and researching cockroaches’ body structure.

Apparently roach bodies are built to be compressed, that’s why they can still scoot around even after being squashed.

According to David Hu, a mechanical engineer at Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, insect such as cockroaches and wasps are so hard to eliminate because Mother Nature has granted them distinctive exoskeletons that bend but don’t break.

By studying the roaches’ body and mimicking their flexible exoskeleton, Robert Full, an integrative biologist, and Dr Kaushik Jayaram from the University of California, partnered to build a six-legged, roach-like robot, called CRAM (Compressible Robot with Articulated Mechanisms).

CRAM is equipped with a compressible shell and can move over five times faster than other soft robots. Similarly to an actual cockroach, CRAM can crawl and squeeze through narrow spaces less than half its height.

“This is only a prototype, but it shows the feasibility of a new direction using what we think are the most effective models for soft robots, that is, animals with exoskeletons,” said Full.

“Insects are the most successful animals on earth. Because they intrude nearly everywhere, we should look to them for inspiration as to how to make a robot that can do the same.”

The researchers are testing their prototype in the hope it will lead to better robots for disaster search and rescue operation.

“In the event of an earthquake, first responders need to know if an area of rubble is stable and safe, but the challenge is, most robots can’t get into rubble,” said Full.

“But if there are lots of cracks and vents and conduits, you can imagine just throwing a swarm of these robots in to locate survivors and safe entry points for first responders.”

So try not to cringe when you see swarms of squeezable cockroach-like rescue robots being deployed into rescue operation sites in the future.

About the author

Pooiee is a freelance writer from Malaysia, currently based in Perth. She is a Journalism and Screen Art Graduate with a background of research into female sexuality. She wants her dog to be famous…

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