A fast-moving robot modeled after a cockroach can now perform acrobat-like flips that mimic the movements of both cockroaches and geckos while escaping predators. The robot, named Dynamic Autonomous Sprawled Hexapod (DASH), may serve as a model for small, highly mobile search-and-rescue robots that can assist first responders.
The 10-cm-long, six-legged DASH had already been developed by the University of California, Berkeley's Biomimetics Millisystems Laboratory, including a winged version for studying wing-assisted running. It can move at 15 body lengths per second. The new research was conducted by a team from the same lab, together with researchers from the University's PolyPEDAL Lab, led by professor Robert Full.
Although smaller animals don't move as fast as larger ones in terms of absolute speed, smaller animals can take advantage of better maneuverability partly because of their smaller scale, the researchers say. When running to escape a predator, both cockroaches and geckos can quickly swing under a ledge in a 180-degree flipping motion that the researchers describe as "pendulum-like."
High-speed 180-degree flips performed by a cockroach (a), a house gecko (b), and the cockroach-inspired DASH robot (c). (Source: PLoS ONE)
To analyze these movements, the team recorded geckos and cockroaches running quickly up an incline toward the edge of a ledge. Then they digitized the creatures' motions and generated a simple model to generalize their movements.
In an article published in PLoS ONE, the team says, "Both species ran rapidly at 12 to 15 body lengths per second toward the ledge without braking, dove off the ledge, attached their feet by claws like a grappling hook, and used a pendulum-like motion that can exceed one meter-per-second to swing around to an inverted position under the ledge, out of sight."
To simulate the movements that geckos and cockroaches made by using their claws, the team equipped a DASH robot with small Velcro hooks attached at the end of its hind legs. Researchers also attached Velcro to the bottom and top sides of the ledge to create points for pivoting and holding.
The researchers have started to develop both active and passive designs for bio-inspired claws to replace the Velcro hooks. They point out that robots have been designed to either run or climb, but not do both, or to transition from one surface to another. By quantifying acrobatic behavior in small animals, they say, small robots like DASH could soon become more mobile and able to make those transitions.
That's a very good question, Gsmith120. With the military robots, I would guess that a lot of the applications are held secret. As for search and rescue in the non-military world, a robot application was recently used to help defuse apartment of James Holmes.
I agree with you Rob this is a nice article. I really enjoy reading the R&D robotic type articles and viewing the videos. Maybe I have missed it, but I was wondering where can I find article(s) that show the next step for these inventions? In other words, we get to see the robotic in its next phase where it moved from development at a college to either use in consumer or military applications?
As my favorite Ridley Scott movie, I'd have to pick the first Alien movie. He didn't direct the other ones, and there were not as strong. I have to get around to seeing Prometheus before it leaves the big screen.
I just saw a movie that might qualify for the big bug/worm/whatever-kind-of-critter-nightmare sci-fi flick: Prometheus, the Alien prequel. Come to think of it, I guess all the Alien movies could qualify.