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Biomimetics: What a robot shaped like a cockroach can do


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Actually, this is quite cool:

Cockroaches thrive in tight, narrow spaces, even in places where surfaces are touching both sides of their bodies, according to the UC Davis Integrated Pest Management program. So the scientists studied the way cockroaches more through their environments and developed a simple, low-cost design that enables robots to move with similar agility. 

The team began its research by studying cockroach behavior and filming the insects as they maneuvered through dense, thicket-like obstacles. They observed that the rounded shape of the insect's body acted as a kind of guide-rail that tilted its body sideways when it touched an object, allowing it to quickly slide through narrow openings, without expending much extra energy. 

They then made a rounded, ellipsoidal shell that imitates the natural body shape of the cockroach and attached it to the top of a small robot. They found the machine was able to roll onto its side and slide past obstacles in small spaces, just as cockroaches do. The team's robot had no obstacle-sensing system on-board, so the researchers know the shell alone allowed the robots to move more freely. 

Li said the design could be useful for designing robots for search-and-rescue missions or precision agriculture, since it could let robots move through thick vegetation or rubble without the need for extra sensors or complex navigational programs. 

The group published its findings in the journal Bioinspiration & Biomimetics on Tuesday.

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