Unites States has created a tiny robot, using a cockroach for their reference when creating its design, that can use its body shape to traverse through environments that are densely cluttered. The team of researchers from Berkeley, at the University of California, is hopeful that their design can be used to inspire future robot designs which can be used to monitor environments and help search and rescue operations.
A shell was designed which could perform rolling maneuvers that will allow it slip through the gaps between vertical beam obstacles and resemble grass without any additional motors or sensors, by Chen Li, who is a postdoctoral researchers and led the team at Berkeley.
Bioinspiration & Biometrics journal by IOP published the results from the initial studies on 23rd June 2015.
Other terrestrial robots have been developed with the ability to avoid obstacles, but few have been designed to traverse them.
The robot known Blaberus discoidalis, or otherwise known as the discoid cockroach, was studied using high speed cameras 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.
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 much 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.
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.”