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DASH Roachbot Learns Acrobatic Flips from Real Cockroach

The UC Berkeley robot learns to quickly flip itself under ledges, an ability it's copying from cockroaches and geckos

2 min read
DASH Roachbot Learns Acrobatic Flips from Real Cockroach

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 vacation 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 ]

The Conversation (0)

How Robots Can Help Us Act and Feel Younger

Toyota’s Gill Pratt on enhancing independence in old age

10 min read
An illustration of a woman making a salad with robotic arms around her holding vegetables and other salad ingredients.
Dan Page

By 2050, the global population aged 65 or more will be nearly double what it is today. The number of people over the age of 80 will triple, approaching half a billion. Supporting an aging population is a worldwide concern, but this demographic shift is especially pronounced in Japan, where more than a third of Japanese will be 65 or older by midcentury.

Toyota Research Institute (TRI), which was established by Toyota Motor Corp. in 2015 to explore autonomous cars, robotics, and “human amplification technologies,” has also been focusing a significant portion of its research on ways to help older people maintain their health, happiness, and independence as long as possible. While an important goal in itself, improving self-sufficiency for the elderly also reduces the amount of support they need from society more broadly. And without technological help, sustaining this population in an effective and dignified manner will grow increasingly difficult—first in Japan, but globally soon after.

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