Robotic Cockroaches for Disaster Searches

This seemed to be a nice change of pace from depressing commentaries (although I understand disaster preparedness isn’t exactly a light-hearted subject). An article about robotic cockroaches leads with some amazing statements about the characteristics of the disgusting bugs. They can “…squish their bodies to one quarter their normal size, yet still scamper at lightning speed. Also, they can withstand 900 times their body weight without being hurt. That’s equivalent to a 200-pound man who wouldn’t be crushed by 90 tons on his head.” They can travel 50 body lengths a second, which is the equivalent of a man running 140 mph. They’re slowed down when they compress to squeeze through a small opening. Compressed they can only travel at 20 body lengths a second, or the equivalent of just under 60 mph.   Study of cockroaches led scientists to create a mini-robot that can be fitted with cameras, microphones, and other sensors for sifting through rubble after a disaster to search for survivors.

The prototype is called the Compressible Robot with Articulated Mechanisms, or CRAM. It’s actually about twenty times the size of a cockroach, but it’s simple and cheap. Kaushik Jayaram, a Harvard robotics researcher, said he used off-the-shelf electronics and motors to build the prototype in about half an hour at a cost of about $100. He estimated the cost would be about $10 for a mass-produced version. Jayaram also said he is still disgusted by cockroaches, “But we can learn a lot of interesting things from even the most disgusting animals.”

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