The robot can boasts a roach like rounded shell and the ability to roll and slip through tiny gaps. Researchers hope that the robot will be used in search and rescue missions in the future.
Chen Li, from the University of California, Berkeley and the lead author of the study said, “The majority of robotics studies have been solving the problem of obstacles by avoiding them, which largely depends on using sensors to map out the environment and algorithms that plan a path to go around obstacles. However, when the terrain becomes densely cluttered, especially as gaps between obstacles become comparable or even smaller than robot size, this approach starts to run into problems as a clear path cannot be mapped.”
The researchers have used high speed cameras to observe the movement of discoid cockroaches through artificial obstacles course containing vertical beams with small spacing. The roaches were fitted with three types of artificial shells to see how this influenced their movements.
The cockroaches without the artificial shell often use a roll maneuver to move through obstacles. With artificial shells that made their body less round, the roaches proved have more trouble moving through obstacles because they were not as capable of performing the roll maneuver. The findings inspired the researchers to create a robot with a similar rounded shell.
Li said, “We showed that our robot can traverse grass-like beam obstacles at high probability, without adding any sensory feedback or changes in motor control, thanks to the thin, rounded shell that allows the robot body to roll to reduce terrain resistance. This is a terrestrial analogy of the streamlined shapes that reduce drag on birds, fish, airplanes and submarines as they move in fluids. We call this ‘terradynamic’ streamlining.”
The robot was able to move through the course using the roll maneuver without the need for addition programming.
Li concluded, “There may be other shapes besides the thin, rounded one that are good for other purposes, such as climbing up and over obstacles of other types. Our next steps will be to study a diversity of terrain and animal shapes to discover more terradynamic shapes, and even morphing shapes. These new concepts will enable terrestrial robots to go through various cluttered environments with minimal sensors and simple controls.”