Now there’s a cockroach-inspired robot that can squeeze into small spaces

Image: AP Photo/Chris Carlson
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Sometimes, inspiration comes from the strangest places. Even kitchen floors, bathtubs, and dumpsters.

Nature has gotten a lot right about design, and scientists are mimicking all sorts of animals to make better robots. They’ve already figured out how to make robots leap over hurdles, and recover when they lose limbs. Now, scientists at the the University of California, Berkeley, have found a way to squeeze robots through tight spaces—by imitating the rounded shape of cockroaches.

The Berkeley team published its findings in the scientific journal Bioinspiration & Biomimetics on June 22. They’re calling the robot the “veloci-roach,” presumably because a regular-speed roach wasn’t creepy enough.

Other robots, when faced with an opening narrower than their own width, will be pretty much stuck. The veloci-roach, however, has an ellipsoid—a three-dimensional oval—shell. This lets it tilt its body and wobble through small openings, much like a cockroach would.

Without the shell, the team’s robot just bangs into the edges of tight openings. But with the shell, the robot can manage smaller openings, like the area between the fridge and the wall, or the kitchen sink. The robot, however, does not scurry away when the lights are turned on.