UC Berkeley researchers develop a Roach-inspired robot that can squeeze into tight spaces.

At times, inspiration comes from the strangest places like kitchen floors, bathtubs, and dumpsters. Nature itself has got so many designs and scientists are mimicking them to make better robots. They have figured out how to make robots leap over hurdles, and recover when they lose limbs. Now researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, have found a way to squeeze robots through tight spaces by copying the rounded shape of cockroaches.

In order to accomplish this act, the UC Berkeley robotics engineers behind the roach bot attached a shell emulating a cockroach’s natural shape. As a result, the robot was then able to cross difficult terrain without hi-tech sensors or computational analysis.

On June 22nd, the Berkeley team published its results in the scientific journal Bioinspiration & Biomimetics. They named the robot as “Veloci-roach,” apparently because a regular-speed roach wasn’t scary enough. Other robots, when faced with an opening narrower than their own size, will be pretty much trapped. However, the Veloci-roach has an ellipsoid—a three-dimensional oval—shell. This lets it tilt its body and wobble through small openings, much like a cockroach would.

Without the shell, the team’s robot just bangs into the edges of tight openings. But with the shell, the robot can manage smaller openings, like the area between the fridge and the wall, or the kitchen sink. The robot, however, does not rush away when the lights are turned on.

The study’s lead researcher, Chen Li, wrote in an e-mail to CNBC that though the approach has proven “very successful,” there are “limitations” to the approach. He also stated “The majority of robotics studies have been solving the problem of obstacles by avoiding them, which depends on using sensors to map out the environment and algorithms that plan a path to go around obstacles”.

In their research, the scientists used high-speed cameras to study the movement of discoid cockroaches through an artificial obstacle course containing grass-like vertical beams with small spacing.

The study’s findings were published in the journal Bioinspiration & Biomimetics on June 22, 2015.

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