This roach-inspired robot can wiggle through tight spaces

SQUISH  A new, collapsible robot can squeeze into tight spaces like its living inspiration, the American cockroach, Periplaneta americana.

Tom Libby, Kaushik Jayaram and Pauline Jennings; Courtesy of PolyPEDAL Lab UC Berkeley

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A new crevice-crawling robot takes after compressible cockroaches.

Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley designed a palm-sized robot inspired by the American cockroach, Periplaneta americana. Thanks to the roach’s sturdy, segmented shell, a roughly 12 millimeter-tall roach can cruise through spaces only four millimeters high and withstand crushing forces around 900 times its own body weight.

The robot version is a “compressible robot with articulated mechanisms,” or CRAM, that has a many-plated, collapsible plastic shell and a flexible spine. This mock exoskeleton allows the bot to shrink from 7.5 centimeters to 3.5 centimeters tall in confined areas.  The robot’s six legs also mimic roach leg positions while scuttling through spacious or cramped quarters.

Future versions of the robot could someday be used in search-and-rescue, navigating through rubble left by earthquakes or explosions in search of survivors, the researchers suggest February 8 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.  

A compressible plastic shell helps a cockroach-inspired robot shrink to half its original height in close quarters. K. Jayaram and R.J. Full/PNAS 2016

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