Stealthy robot mimics disappearing cockroaches

Berkeley scientists build robot that could someday be used by military or first responders

You know how cockroaches just seem to disappear before you can squash them?

Imagine if robots could do the same disappearing act.

Scientists at the University of California, Berkeley are making that happen. By studying the cockroach, researchers discovered that one of the ways the pests can quickly slip from sight is by deftly flipping themselves under a ledge.

And the knowledge of how cockroaches do that can help scientists build better robots - ones that could more easily act as first responders or in a military setting.

"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, the UC Berkeley professor of electrical engineering and computer science who led the study's robotics group.

Robert Full, a Berkeley professor of integrative biology, said new knowledge about cockroaches definitely can help make better robots.

"Today, some robots are good at running, some at climbing, but very few are good at both or transitioning from one behavior to the other," added Full. "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."

The university's biology and robotics departments teamed up to recreate the cockroaches' behavior in a six-legged robot equipped with Velcro strips on its back legs.

Scientists discovered that when they attached Velcro strips to the upper side and underside of a ledge, the robot -- dubbed DASH for Dynamic Autonomous Sprawled Hexapod -- could do the same athletic and stealthy move.

According to Berkeley, Jean-Michel Mongeau, a graduate student in UC Berkeley's biophysics group, used a high-speed camera and found that cockroaches can deftly end up on the underside of edges by using their hind legs to grab the surface and swinging their bodies around and under the ledge.

New cockroach behavior discovered by University of California, Berkeley biologists secures the insect's reputation as one of nature's top escape artists.

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