Good news, people who are creeped out by bugs! Now scientists have invented a robot inspired by a cockroach that can also skitter across the ground and terrify us. The tiny robot is nearly as fast as the insect and is nearly as squish-resistant, too.
But unlike the cockroach, this yet-unnamed robot—created by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley—can help humans access tiny spaces we otherwise wouldn’t be able to, such as in a collapsed building destroyed in a natural disaster to look for people trapped inside. It could also potentially detect gas leaks in tight areas and have other similar applications.
The simple design of the robot is also partially what makes it so robust. It is constructed from a slim piece of polyvinylidene difluoride, a material that expands and contracts when it receives a jolt from an alternating current. As for how it moves, its “front leg” and elastic polymer layer bends each time it’s jolted, propelling it forward as you can see in the video below.
The bot can handle navigating through small areas and gentle inclines. It can even carry items up to six times its weight. Currently, however, it does have to be tethered to its power source to run, but it’s likely that future iterations could work via battery.
“Most of the robots at this particular small scale are very fragile. If you step on them, you pretty much destroy the robot,” stated Liwei Lin, professor of mechanical engineering at UC Berkeley and senior author of the new study describing the robot. “We found that if we put weight on our robot, it still more or less functions.”
The roach-bot weighs less than one-tenth of a gram yet, despite that, can withstand being stood on by a human weighing 132 pounds and take the stress of up to a million times its own weight. And despite being the size of a postage stamp, the bot can move incredibly fast: twenty of its body lengths per second.
“We hope the proposed insect-scale robot paves a way to pursue fast and robust robots for practical applications,” the researchers concluded. Talk about taking inspiration from nature!