Researchers in the US have come out with a unique robot which can twist and use body shape to maneuver through cluttered areas. Designed after the humble albiet icky creepy cockroach, this robot has a shell so fashioned that it can perform a roll maneuver to slip through gaps between grass-like vertical beam obstacles without the need for additional sensors or motors.
The robot was created by a team based in University of California, Berkeley and they hope their design could be used to inspire future robot designs for use in monitoring the environment and search and rescue operations.
The initial test results of the robot’s performance are published in IOP Publishing’s journal Bioinspiration & Biomimetics, released on Tuesday (June 23).
Researchers used high-speed cameras to study the movement of Blaberus discoidalis – otherwise known as the discoid cockroach – through an artificial obstacle course containing grass-like vertical beams with small spacing. Living on the floor of tropical rainforests, the Blaberus encounters a wide variety of cluttered obstacles, such as blades of grass, shrubs, leaf litter, tree trunks, and fungi.
The Berkeley team, was led by postdoctoral researcher Chen Li.
According to Li, “our next steps will be to study a diversity of terrain and animal shapes to discover more terradynamic shapes, and even morphing shapes. These new concepts will enable terrestrial robots to go through various cluttered environments with minimal sensors and simple controls.”
Other terrestrial robots have been developed with the ability to avoid obstacles, but few have been designed to traverse them.
After examining the cockroaches the researchers tested their small, rectangular, six-legged robot and observed whether it was able to traverse a similar obstacle course. They found that with a rectangular body the robot could not often traverse the grass-like beams and frequently collided with the obstacles, regularly becoming stuck.
When the robot was fitted with the streamlined shell it was more likely to successfully move through the obstacle course using a similar roll maneuver to the cockroaches. This adaptive behavior came about with no change to the robot programming, showing that the behavior came from the shell itself.