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UC Berkeley Designs Obstacle Conquering Cockroach Robot

Cockroach Robot

Through the addition of what appears to be a minor aesthetic modification to a miniscule robot, researchers at the University of California, Berkeley have managed to transform an otherwise clumsy robot into an obstacle conquering cockroach-esque robot which navigates tight spaces like its predecessor could never imagine.

In order to accomplish this feat, the UC Berkeley robotics engineers behind the roach bot attached a shell emulating a cockroach’s natural shape. As a result, the robot was then able to traverse difficult terrain without hi-tech sensors or computational analysis.

The study’s lead researcher, Chen Li, wrote in an e-mail to CNBC that while the approach has proven “very successful,” there are “limitations” to the approach.

The majority of robots deal with obstacles by avoiding them—often using sensors to map out the environment and heavy computation to plan a safe path to go around obstacles (…) This approach has been very successful (for example, Google’s self-driving car). However, it does have limitations. First, when the terrain becomes densely cluttered, a clear path cannot be planned because obstacles are just too close to each other.

With fusiformstreamlined, drag-reducing body shapesin mind, the researchers found their inspiration in cockroaches. Observing the resilient insects, the team found that that their bodies acted as guide-rails of sorts as they tilted sideways when coming in contact with an object, which in turn allows them to slide through narrow openings without exerting much additional energy. This led to the development of a rounded, ellipsoidal shell which imitates a cockroach’s natural body shape.

The study’s findings were published in the journal Bioinspiration & Biomimetics on June 22, 2015.

Robot dogs, cheetahs and now cockroaches — what do you think is next?

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