Cockroach-inspired robot can navigate cluttered environs

New York, June 23 (IANS) Researchers have taken inspiration from cockroaches to create a robot that can use its body shape to manoeuvre through a densely cluttered environment.

Fitted with the characteristic rounded shell of the discoid cockroach, the running robot can perform a roll manoeuvre to slip through gaps between grass-like vertical beam obstacles without the need for additional sensors or motors.

“We showed that our robot can traverse grass-like beam obstacles at high probability without adding any sensory feedback or changes in motor control, thanks to the thin, rounded shell that allows the robot body to roll to reduce terrain resistance” said lead author Chen Li from the University of California, Berkeley.

“This is a terrestrial analogy of the streamlined shapes that reduce drag on birds, fish, airplanes and submarines as they move in fluids. We call this ‘terradynamic’ streamlining.”

“We hope that the robot can inspire the design of future terrestrial robots to use in a wide variety of scenarios, from monitoring the environment to search and rescue operations.”

While many terrestrial robots have been developed with a view to perform a wide range of tasks by avoiding obstacles, few have been specifically designed to traverse obstacles.

In their study, the researchers used high-speed cameras to study the movement of discoid cockroaches through an artificial obstacle course containing grass-like vertical beams with small spacing.

After examining the cockroaches, the researchers then tested a small, rectangular, six-legged robot and observed whether it was able to traverse a cluttered obstacle course.

The researchers found that with a rectangular body the robot could rarely traverse the grass-like beams and frequently collided with the obstacles and became stuck between them.

When the robot was fitted with the cockroach-inspired rounded shell, it was much more likely to successfully move through the obstacle course using a similar roll manoeuvre to the cockroaches.

This adaptive behaviour came about with no change to the robot programming, showing that the intelligent behaviour came from the shell.

The study appeared in the journal Bioinspiration & Biomimetics.

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