'Cockroach robot' may become rescue tool

Three cockroaches squeezing though a 3mm crevice under a room door at different stages of traversal, in this undated handout photo courtesy of PolyPEDAL Lab, UC Berkeley.
Three cockroaches squeezing though a 3mm crevice under a room door at different stages of traversal, in this undated handout photo courtesy of PolyPEDAL Lab, UC Berkeley.PHOTO: REUTERS

MIAMI • Inspired by cockroaches that can squeeze through tiny spaces, United States scientists have designed a small robot that may one day help locate people in the rubble of earthquakes, tornadoes or explosions.

The technology by the University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley) was unveiled on Monday in the Proceedings Of The National Academy Of Sciences.

"What's impressive about these cockroaches is that they can run as fast through a 0.6cm gap as a 1.25cm gap by reorienting their legs completely out to the side," said lead researcher Kaushik Jayaram, a post-doctoral fellow at Harvard University.

"They're about 1.3cm tall when they run freely, but can squish their bodies to about 0.3cm - the height of two stacked pennies."

The palm-sized robot, known as Cram - for compressible robot with articulated mechanisms - is capped with a plastic shield, much like the wings on the back of a cockroach.

"In the event of an earthquake, first responders need to know if an area of rubble is stable and safe, but the challenge is, most robots can't get into rubble," said Dr Robert Full, a professor of integrative biology at UC Berkeley.

"But if there are lots of cracks and vents and conduits, you can imagine just throwing a swarm of these robots in to locate survivors and safe entry points for first responders."

Researchers said the robots are inexpensive to make and they are working on various versions for real-world testing.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 10, 2016, with the headline ''Cockroach robot' may become rescue tool'. Print Edition | Subscribe