Nav: Home

You can't squash this roach-inspired robot

July 31, 2019

If the sight of a skittering bug makes you squirm, you may want to look away -- a new insect-sized robot created by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, can scurry across the floor at nearly the speed of a darting cockroach.

And it's nearly as hardy as a cockroach, too. Try to squash this robot under your foot, and more than likely, it will just keep going.

"Most of the robots at this particular small scale are very fragile. If you step on them, you pretty much destroy the robot," said Liwei Lin, a professor of mechanical engineering at UC Berkeley and senior author of a new study that describes the robot. "We found that if we put weight on our robot, it still more or less functions."

Small, durable robots like these could be advantageous in search and rescue missions, squeezing and squishing into places where dogs or humans can't fit, or where it may be too dangerous for them to go.

"For example, if an earthquake happens, it's very hard for the big machines, or the big dogs, to find life underneath debris, so that's why we need a small-sized robot that is agile and robust," said Yichuan Wu, first author of the paper, who completed the work as a graduate student in mechanical engineering at UC Berkeley through the Tsinghua-Berkeley Shenzhen Institute partnership. Wu is now an assistant professor at the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China.

The study appears today (Wednesday, July 31) in the journal Science Robotics.

The robot, which is about the size of a large postage stamp, is made of a thin sheet of a piezoelectric material called polyvinylidene fluoride, or PVDF. Piezoelectric materials are unique, in that applying electric voltage to them causes the materials to expand or contract.

The researchers coated the PVDF in a layer of an elastic polymer, which causes the entire sheet to bend, instead of to expand or contract. They then added a front leg so that, as the material bends and straightens under an electric field, the oscillations propel the device forward in a "leapfrogging" motion.

The resulting robot may be simple to look at, but it has some remarkable abilities. It can sail along the ground at a speed of 20 body lengths per second, a rate comparable to that of a cockroach and reported to be the fastest pace among insect-scale robots. It can zip through tubes, climb small slopes and carry small loads, such as a peanut.

Perhaps most impressively, the robot, which weighs less than one tenth of a gram can withstand a weight of around 60 kg - about the weight of an average human - which is approximately 1 million times the weight of the robot.

"People may have experienced that, if you step on the cockroach, you may have to grind it up a little bit, otherwise the cockroach may still survive and run away," Lin said. "Somebody stepping on our robot is applying an extraordinarily large weight, but [the robot] still works, it still functions. So, in that particular sense, it's very similar to a cockroach."

The robot is currently "tethered" to a thin wire that carries an electric voltage that drives the oscillations. The team is experimenting with adding a battery so the robot can roam independently. They are also working to add gas sensors and are improving the design of the robot so it can be steered around obstacles.
-end-
Co-authors of the paper include Justin K. Yim, Zhichun Shao, Mingjing Qi, Junwen Zhong, Zihao Luo, Ronald S. Fearing and Robert J. Full of UC Berkeley, Xiaojun Yan of Beihang University and Jiaming Liang, Min Zhang and Xiaohao Wang of Tsinghua University.

This work is supported in part by the Berkeley Sensor and Actuator Center, an Industry-University Cooperation Research Center.

University of California - Berkeley

Related Science Articles:

75 science societies urge the education department to base Title IX sexual harassment regulations on evidence and science
The American Educational Research Association (AERA) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) today led 75 scientific societies in submitting comments on the US Department of Education's proposed changes to Title IX regulations.
Science/Science Careers' survey ranks top biotech, biopharma, and pharma employers
The Science and Science Careers' 2018 annual Top Employers Survey polled employees in the biotechnology, biopharmaceutical, pharmaceutical, and related industries to determine the 20 best employers in these industries as well as their driving characteristics.
Science in the palm of your hand: How citizen science transforms passive learners
Citizen science projects can engage even children who previously were not interested in science.
Applied science may yield more translational research publications than basic science
While translational research can happen at any stage of the research process, a recent investigation of behavioral and social science research awards granted by the NIH between 2008 and 2014 revealed that applied science yielded a higher volume of translational research publications than basic science, according to a study published May 9, 2018 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Xueying Han from the Science and Technology Policy Institute, USA, and colleagues.
Prominent academics, including Salk's Thomas Albright, call for more science in forensic science
Six scientists who recently served on the National Commission on Forensic Science are calling on the scientific community at large to advocate for increased research and financial support of forensic science as well as the introduction of empirical testing requirements to ensure the validity of outcomes.
World Science Forum 2017 Jordan issues Science for Peace Declaration
On behalf of the coordinating organizations responsible for delivering the World Science Forum Jordan, the concluding Science for Peace Declaration issued at the Dead Sea represents a global call for action to science and society to build a future that promises greater equality, security and opportunity for all, and in which science plays an increasingly prominent role as an enabler of fair and sustainable development.
PETA science group promotes animal-free science at society of toxicology conference
The PETA International Science Consortium Ltd. is presenting two posters on animal-free methods for testing inhalation toxicity at the 56th annual Society of Toxicology (SOT) meeting March 12 to 16, 2017, in Baltimore, Maryland.
Citizen Science in the Digital Age: Rhetoric, Science and Public Engagement
James Wynn's timely investigation highlights scientific studies grounded in publicly gathered data and probes the rhetoric these studies employ.
Science/Science Careers' survey ranks top biotech, pharma, and biopharma employers
The Science and Science Careers' 2016 annual Top Employers Survey polled employees in the biotechnology, biopharmaceutical, pharmaceutical, and related industries to determine the 20 best employers in these industries as well as their driving characteristics.
Three natural science professors win TJ Park Science Fellowship
Professor Jung-Min Kee (Department of Chemistry, UNIST), Professor Kyudong Choi (Department of Mathematical Sciences, UNIST), and Professor Kwanpyo Kim (Department of Physics, UNIST) are the recipients of the Cheong-Am (TJ Park) Science Fellowship of the year 2016.
More Science News and Science Current Events

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2019.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

In & Out Of Love
We think of love as a mysterious, unknowable force. Something that happens to us. But what if we could control it? This hour, TED speakers on whether we can decide to fall in — and out of — love. Guests include writer Mandy Len Catron, biological anthropologist Helen Fisher, musician Dessa, One Love CEO Katie Hood, and psychologist Guy Winch.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#543 Give a Nerd a Gift
Yup, you guessed it... it's Science for the People's annual holiday episode that helps you figure out what sciency books and gifts to get that special nerd on your list. Or maybe you're looking to build up your reading list for the holiday break and a geeky Christmas sweater to wear to an upcoming party. Returning are pop-science power-readers John Dupuis and Joanne Manaster to dish on the best science books they read this past year. And Rachelle Saunders and Bethany Brookshire squee in delight over some truly delightful science-themed non-book objects for those whose bookshelves are already full. Since...
Now Playing: Radiolab

An Announcement from Radiolab