Uh, don't geckos eat cockroaches? Photo: Jean-Michel Mongeau, Ardian Jusufi, and Pauline Jennings (UC Berkeley PolyPEDAL Lab)
DASH, UC Berkeley's 10-centimeter long, 16-gram Dynamic Autonomous Sprawled Hexapod, has learned a new trick: the robot can now perform "rapid inversion" maneuvers, dashing up to a ledge and then swinging itself around to end up underneath the ledge and upside-down. This replicates behaviors in cockroaches and geckos, and may lead to a new generation of acrobatically-inclined insectobots.
Cockroaches have a notorious (and much hated) ability to vanish from sight before your brain even decides you should take a swat at it. And if you've ever tried to chase down a gecko (and seriously, who hasn't), you know that they're not just fast, but they're also incredibly agile. These abilities stem in great part from the fact that cockroaches and geckos are small and light, and consequently don't have to overcome much inertia when changing direction. We've only recently been able to take advantage of technologies that allow for the creation of robots at similar scales, and such robots (like DASH) exhibit impressive speed and agility.
Recently, researchers at UC Berkeley's PolyPEDAL Lab, led by Professor Robert Full, demonstrated that cockroaches can perform "rapid inversions" on a ledge, a previously unknown behavior. Surprisingly, while on a
research trip at the Wildlife Reserves near Singapore, the researchers discovered a similar behavior in lizards and documented geckos using this technique in the jungle to escape predators and nosy scientists. Next, Full's group teamed up with roboticists from Berkeley's Biomimetic Millisystems Lab to see if DASH could be taught to do the same sort of thing. Sure it could:
Video: PolyPEDAL Lab
DASH, unlike cockroaches or geckos (or CLASH, for that matter), doesn't come with claws, so the researchers "simulated claw action" by sticking some Velcro onto DASH's front and hind legs, and then adding more Velcro to the top and underside of the ledge to form pivot and catch points.
Image: PLoS One
Since the whole Velcro thing is kind of cheating if you're trying to design a robot inspired by animals (as opposed to plants), the Berkeley researchers have started to develop designs for both active and passive bio-inspired claws. With the ability to naturally stick to surfaces and these new acrobatic tricks, the UC Berkeley teams say DASH could soon be able to make speedy transitions between running and climbing, eventually leading to "highly mobile sentinel and search-and-rescue robots that assist us during natural and human-made disasters."
Note that no cockroaches or geckos were harmed over the course of this research, although they all got lots of exercise.
[ PolyPEDAL Lab ]
Evan Ackerman is the senior writer for IEEE Spectrum’s award-winning robotics blog, Automaton. Since 2007, he has written over 6,000 articles on robotics and emerging technology, covering conferences and events on every single continent except Africa, Antarctica, Australia, and South America (although he remains optimistic). In addition to Spectrum, Evan’s work has appeared in a variety of other online publications including Gizmodo and Slate, and you may have heard him on NPR’s Science Friday or the BBC World Service if you were listening at just the right time. Evan has an undergraduate degree in Martian geology, which he almost never gets to use, and still wants to be an astronaut when he grows up. In his spare time, he enjoys scuba diving, rehabilitating injured raptors, and playing bagpipes excellently.