Researchers from the University of California (Berkeley) have developed a new roach-inspired robot that’s nearly as fast and robust as its insect counterpart. Real cockroaches are surprisingly quick and resilient, can live and thrive in hostile environments, and as the cliché states, will probably outlive us, humans, after we are long gone. The roach-bot features some of those qualities as well — step on it, and more often than not, it will keep functioning, and just like roaches, can enter tight spaces and handle rough environments quite well.
Tiny robots like these would be beneficial for applications such as search and rescue, getting into areas where humans and other animals can’t get into, or where it’s too toxic for them to enter. Imagine, for example, using these tiny robots after an earthquake to search for survivors underneath the rubble, where it’s near impossible for dogs or rescuers to enter.
The researchers designed the robot (about the size of a postage stamp) using a thin sheet of a piezoelectric material known as polyvinylidene fluoride (PVDF), which they then coated in an elastic polymer. When an electric current is applied to the PVDF, the material bends, rather than expand or contract. A leg was then added to the front of the robot so that when the material deforms and straightens under an electric current, the motion propels the robot forward in a sort of ‘leapfrogging’ motion.
This action allows the robot to move at a speed of 20-body lengths per second and is reportedly the fastest of all insect-like robots. It’s also capable of scurrying through tubes, climb small slopes, and carrying small payloads the size of peanuts. Most impressively, it can withstand a weight of approximately 132-pounds and still function. The robot is currently tethered, but the researchers are looking at ways they can add a lightweight battery so the robot can work independently. They are even looking at ways they can add sensors to detect everything from gases to temperatures.