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.
I suppose one should get excited about the idea of copying the agility of a roach and this is definitely a very cool development, but ... Why do all these robots seem to borrow traits from such disgusting creatures. I was getting creeped out just watching the robot's movements. Reminded me of a bad horror movie, or wose, one of my old apartments in college. Yuck!
I'm with you two: ecchh! But that's only my response to the bug part. My response to the robot part was: wow! And the second and third videos in the sequence, of the gecko and the DASH robot, aren't nearly as creepy. Although the DASH robot's movements are very close to a cockroach's.
Congrats on another wonderful article about taking abilities in the natural world and incorporating them into robotic technology. The video really says it all. Also, it's nice to see a development outside of military research.
Thanks, Rob. I found it especially interesting that nature had solved the same problem in a similar way in both a reptile and an insect. It's true that this DASH is aimed at first responder apps, but there's usually a lot of crossover between those and military apps for reconnaissance and surveillance activities. But I agree, it's good to see technology adapted to multiple uses in both civilian and military arenas.
Also, this maneuver is particularly interesting. It nearly defies gravity. I'd be interested to know whether they solved this by the quick swing of the cylindrical physical movement or whether there was some mild adhesive in the "foot" that kept both the creature and the robot from falling.
It was quite something to see in the video, the mition that seemed to defy gravity. In all three instances, there seemed to be a velocity in the turn that seemed to keep the creature or robot from spinning off altogether. So perhaps the trick has to do with motion.
Ann: I'm beginning to worry that all the mimicry that you've been writing about is going to result in a class of robots that will incorporate all the best capabilities of bugs and animals. In a hundred years, I don't think we'll be able to beat robots at anything. At the very least, this is fodder for a great sci-fi movie.
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