How Cockroaches Can Improve Robots

Inspiration from insects may help with disaster recovery.
Marsha Lewis, Contributing Producer

(Inside Science TV) -- They creep up on you and scurry past you. But instead of being revolted by roaches, some scientists are inspired by them.

The roach -- it survived since the dinosaurs, can hold its breath underwater for 40 minutes and is capable of living a week without its head. Now, this seemingly indestructible insect could hold the key to creating a more streamlined, highly maneuverable roach-bot.

University of California Berkeley biophysicist Chen Li built this obstacle course to study how roaches wiggle their way through tight spaces.

It turns out a cockroach has something special that helps it maneuver over tough terrain.

“We discovered that the body shape of these animals are, in fact, well adapted to maneuver through clutter obstacles," he said.

Their rounded shells help them get through obstacles that normal box-shaped robots cannot.  Placing an oblong, roach-shaped shell atop a blockier, traditional robot shape transforms it into an unstoppable roach-bot.

“Now, we can simply add this smart shape, inspired from the animal, and without having to add additional computers or sensors, the robot can traverse these obstacles,” Li explained.

Researchers believe this is the beginning of roach-shaped rescuers. The roach-inspired shapes could allow the robots to creep inside collapsed buildings, crawl through disaster zones, check out broken pipes, monitor the environment, and traverse rocky terrain that could stop other robots in their tracks.

Go Inside The Science:

Chen Li, Terradynamics Lab at Johns Hopkins University (formerly at UC Berkeley)

Streamlined Cockroaches Inspire Highly Maneuverable Robots

Author Bio & Story Archive

Marsha Lewis is a freelance producer based in California.  She has won 11 National Telly Awards and nine Regional Emmy Awards for her work in local and national syndicated news.

I’ve dedicated my time to reporting and producing stories focused on medical, science and technology. I created a nationally award winning series dedicated to promoting women and their great accomplishments.  Now I’ve taken that expertise outside the traditional TV news format and broadened the viewership to people around the world.