Hello,

We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not an Insider? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

Intelligent Machines

This Uncrushable Robot Cockroach Just Wants to Rescue You

Inspired by roaches’ ability to squeeze into tiny spaces, this new critter is part of a rising trend of building robots that are soft and malleable.

If you were trapped beneath a pile of rubble, a large robotic cockroach might be the last thing you'd hope to see scrabbling toward you. However, two researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, seem to think that such a contraption could be the ideal way to reach survivors buried under debris.

Robert Full, a professor at Berkeley, and one of his graduate students, Kaushik Jayaram, took inspiration from the remarkably squishable and resilient cockroach to develop a robot version with an exoskeleton that allows it be compressed to less than half its height in order to wriggle through confined spaces.

In a paper published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Full and Jayaram show how a cockroach is able to squeeze its body into tight spaces and still keep moving, thanks to an exoskeleton made of soft materials. They conducted a series of experiments that involved compressing real cockroaches and observing the forces placed on them.

The robot walking normally.

The researchers then built a device, which Full and Jayaram call a compressible robot with articulated mechanisms (CRAM), from several folding exoskeleton-like plates. They speculate that its malleability and strength could make it ideal for exploring collapsed buildings.

The robot's shell and flexible spine allow it to crawl when compressed to half its normal height.

It’s a cool experiment that also points to a significant and newish trend in robotics. Many researchers and a few companies are becoming interested in soft or malleable robot designs for the various physical advantages they can offer.

Firms including Soft Robotics and Empire Robotics already sell soft grippers designed to make it easier for robots to manipulate objects without requiring extreme precision. Exoskeletons might offer another way to make robots that can change shape while still retaining their strength.

So next time you try in vain to crush a cockroach beneath your shoe, perhaps take a moment to marvel at its incredible design, and consider its potential applications.

(Sources: PNAS, Scientific American)

AI is here.
Own what happens next at EmTech Digital 2019.

Register now
More from Intelligent Machines

Artificial intelligence and robots are transforming how we work and live.

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe and become an Insider.
  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}* Best Value

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus the digital magazine, extensive archive, ad-free web experience, and discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events.

    See details+

    Print + Digital Magazine (6 bi-monthly issues)

    Unlimited online access including all articles, multimedia, and more

    The Download newsletter with top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox

    Technology Review PDF magazine archive, including articles, images, and covers dating back to 1899

    10% Discount to MIT Technology Review events and MIT Press

    Ad-free website experience

  • Insider Basic {! insider.prices.basic !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Six issues of our award winning print magazine, unlimited online access plus The Download with the top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox.

    See details+

    Print Magazine (6 bi-monthly issues)

    Unlimited online access including all articles, multimedia, and more

    The Download newsletter with top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox

  • Insider Online Only {! insider.prices.online !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Unlimited online access including articles and video, plus The Download with the top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox.

    See details+

    Unlimited online access including all articles, multimedia, and more

    The Download newsletter with top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox

/3
You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. This is your last free article this month. for unlimited online access. You've read all your free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for more, or for unlimited online access. for two more free articles, or for unlimited online access.