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Cockroach-Like Robots May Be the Future of Disaster Help


The compressible robot CRAM, next to an actual real cockroach.

Researchers hope swarms of future roach-like robots could be fitted with cameras, microphones, and other sensors and used in earthquakes and other disasters to help search for victims by squeezing through small cracks.

Credit: Tom Libby, Kaushik Jayaram and Pauline Jennings/PolyPEDAL Lab, UC Berkeley

Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley and Harvard University have developed the Compressible Robot with Articulated Mechanisms (CRAM), a mini-robot that can mimic the cockroach's remarkable strength and agility.

The researchers say swarms of future roach-like robots could be equipped with cameras, microphones, and other sensors and then used in disasters to help search for victims by squeezing through small cracks.

CRAM actually looks more like an armadillo and is about 20 times bigger than actual cockroaches.

The researchers built the prototype using off-the-shelf electronics and motors, which cost less than $100, according to estimates. If mass-produced, with sensors and other equipment added on, the robots could eventually cost less than $10 apiece, according to Harvard researcher Kaushik Jayaram.

The researchers found cockroaches use a newly identified type of locomotion, based on the ideal amount of belly friction, to squeeze through cracks and crevices.

Cockroaches and insects in general are excellent design guides for roboticists to borrow from, according to Johns Hopkins University professor Noah Cowan, who was not involved in the CRAM research. "There's definitely a case for machines that can go into environments that are not safe for humans to go into," Cowan says.

From Associated Press
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