Robotics researchers are being schooled by an unlikely teacher: the cockroach. The research team at Oregon State University is studying the insect in a quest to build the world’s first legged robot that is capable of running effortlessly over rough terrain–a process they call “bioinspiration.”
The team’s latest findings, published in Bioinspiration and Biomimetics, outline how animals use their legs to manage energy storage and expenditure, and why this is so important for running stability. The work is being supported by the National Science Foundation.
“Cockroaches are incredible,” says John Schmitt, an assistant professor in the School of Mechanical, Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering at OSU. “They can run fast, turn on a dime, move easily over rough terrain, and react to perturbations faster than a nerve impulse can travel.”
“A cockroach doesn’t think much about running, it just runs. And it only slows down about 20 percent when going over blocks that are three times higher than its hips. That’s just remarkable, and an indication that their stability has to do with how they are built, rather than how they react.”
If the engineers can apply cockroach principles to robots, they may be able to develop a robot that can run effortlessly. “If we ever develop robots that can really run over rough ground, they can’t afford to use so much of their computing abilities and energy demand to accomplish it,” Schmitt said.