Dense Clutters No More Stumbling Blocks for Tiny Bots, Thanks to the Roach

June 29, 2015, By Sanjeev Ramachandran

It’s often hard for miniature bots to maneuver through dense areas like grass blades and shrubs.

Technology used in these bots makes use of sensors and cameras to detect an alternate path.

But those don’t appear ideal when running into dense clutters, which offer minimal gap in between these.

Often do human minds look up to nature for countering similar issues with robotics, and nature seldom fails to provide an answer.


This time, it’s in the form of cockroaches that nature has guided the way for scientists.

Discoid cockroaches, mostly scattered around the tropical rainforests, often encounter similar hurdles when making their way through shrubby and grassy floors of their habitat. Scientists from the University of California, with the help of high speed cameras, have observed that these insects make use of roll maneuver to cross the obstacles.

A tilt in the body shell will have them ease past these obstacles, making use of their legs to push off the beams.

They later had these cockroaches fitted with artificial shells atop them, each of them in different shapes. While one was shaped flat rectangular, another was shaped flat oval, with the last type similar to that of the natural shells of these cockroaches.

It was found that cockroaches were less successful in crossing the obstacles when running with flat shells.

This sparked the scientists to carry out similar shell-fixed experiments with a tiny six legged bot named VelociRoACH, and it was no surprise that they ended up with the desired result.

The percentage of crossing was less than quarter percent when these were fitted with flat shells. But affixing the natural-akin shells made sure that the VelociRoach crossed the obstacles with a success percentage of above 90%.

One striking feature of this research was that it required no extra sensors or monitors for the robots to sort their way out of the obstacles. All that was required was an oval shell that helped them take advantage of the physical environment around them.

The success with the study also means that these shells will find further involvement with robotic activities in coming times.

Small and inexpensive robots can be given the capability to maneuver over dense obstacles with no addition of sensors or algorithms, thus by adding no big sum to the expenses.

Where it finds its application to be critical would be in fields like search and rescue, precision farming, military reconnaissance and the like. A detailed report has been published by the online journal Bioinspiration & Biomimetics.

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