Engineers built cockroach-inspired robot that can’t be squashed
Some of the best robots are inspired by nature. Now engineers have developed a fast little robot based on the humble cockroach – with almost as much speed and crushing capacity as its biological counterpart.
The size of a postage stamp, the flexible robot, which has not yet been named, is able to move at a speed of 20 body lengths per second and withstand stress up to a million times its own weight.
Tilting the scale to less than a tenth of a gram, the robot can withstand being put on by a human foot – a weight that equates to around 60 kilograms or 132 pounds. He gets up and continues.
“Most robots at this small scale are very fragile,” says mechanical engineer Liwei Lin of the University of California, Berkeley. “If you step on it, you pretty much destroy the robot.”
“We found that if we put pressure on our robot, it always works more or less.”
Part of the robot’s robustness is its simple design. It is made from a thin sheet of polyvinylidene difluoride (PVDF), a piezoelectric material that expands and contracts with the application of a small alternating current.
This expansion and contraction gives the cockroach robot its way of moving: by adding a front paw and a layer of elastic polymer, the scientists bent the sheet so that it propelled it forward.
The team experimented with several robot lengths (from 10 to 30mm) and varied the frequency and voltage of the electric current to change the operating speed of their designs. At its fastest, a 10mm robot managed to speed up to 20 centimeters per second when 200 V was applied at 850 Hz.
As you can see in the video above, the rushing robot is able to climb gentle slopes, traverse small tubes, and even carry loads up to six times its own weight, as shown in the binding. of a peanut at the top.
Right now the bot needs to be connected to its power source, but a future version could be powered by a small battery.
While it’s fun to watch smart designs like this do their job, designs like these can have some valuable uses. One of the ways that small robots can be of help is by investigating disaster sites which could be dangerous and unstable.
“For example, if an earthquake occurs, it is very difficult for big machines, or big dogs, to find life under the debris, which is why we need a small robot that be nimble and robust, ”says mechanical engineer Yichuan Wu. of the China University of Electronic Science and Technology.
To that end, the team is looking for ways to add a gas sensor to the original design – which would allow the robot to squeeze into very tight spaces and check for any gas leaks that present a potential threat to the machine. life.
This is just one of the improvements engineers are looking to make to their software robots. They would also like to develop a way to get him to automatically avoid obstacles as he explores the world around him.
In recent years, we’ve seen the line between biology and robotics blur even more, with tiny machines now able to travel through a living organism. The capabilities of this particular design are just beginning to be explored.
“We hope that the proposed insect-scale robot will pave the way for fast and robust robots for practical applications,” the researchers conclude in their published paper.
The research was published in Scientific robotics.