Insights on fast cockroaches can help teach robots to walk

December 08, 2017

Using the example of cockroaches, the Cologne-based zoologist Dr Tom Weihmann and his team were able to show that quickly running insects change their gait at mid-speed. This behaviour has previously only been observed in fast mammals. This change in gait is similar to the way horses change from trop to gallop. The results of the study have now been published in the journal Frontiers in Zoology.

'I was particularly surprised that a change in mechanisms stabilizing the animal's movement goes hand in hand with a change in leg coordination', Weihmann notes. An insect's slow run is very stable because its centre of gravity is low and three legs are always moving in a coordinated manner. The research showed that the change in gait at high speed and on a slippery surface was accompanied by a change from static to dynamic stabilization. This minimizes the need of the central nervous system to control the motion while attaining high energy efficiency.

'This discovery not only has far-reaching implications regarding the behaviour and ecology of insects and other arthropodes', says Weihmann. 'Our results can also contribute to solving some problems we still have with the movement of robots.'

Robots with legs generally have better cross-country mobility than robots with wheels. Particularly at high running speeds, however, robots use up a lot of energy - in contrast to many animals. Thus, the cockroaches' locomotion pattern could contribute to finding a solution that would let robots run at a high speed with an acceptable expenditure of energy. 'Robots with legs that can be used here on Earth after disasters, or on Mars or other planets, are often modelled on insects', Weihmann explains. 'Adapting the coordination patterns of robot legs to those of fast-running cockroaches can help the robot use energy more efficiently and hence increase its endurance in an inhospitable environment.'

The scientists used the organism Nauphoeta cinerea to study its locomotion on slippery and non-slippery surfaces. The results showed that at high speed, the animals reduce the degree to which their legs move in a synchronized manner. This allowed them to avoid disruptions in their coordination or falls even on slippery surfaces.
-end-
Publication: 'Speed dependent phase shifts and gait changes in cockroaches running on substrates of different slipperiness'. Tom Weihmann, Pierre-Guillaume Brun and Emily Pycroft. Frontiers in Zoology 2017 14:54. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1186/s12983-017-0232-y

Media Enquiries:
Dr Tom Weihmann
+49 221 470 1617
tom.weihmann@uni-koeln.de

Press and Communication Team:
Frieda Berg
+49 221 470 1704
f.berg@verw.uni-koeln.de

University of Cologne

Related Robots Articles from Brightsurf:

On the way to lifelike robots
In order for robots to be able to achieve more than simple automated machines in the future, they must not only have their own ''brain''.

Children think robots can help the elderly -- but not their own grandparents
A study that asked children to assess three different robots showed that they responded most positively to simple robots shaped like flower pots, and were most sceptical of Pepper the robot, which looks more human.

Nanomaterial gives robots chameleon skin
A new film made of gold nanoparticles changes color in response to any type of movement.

How many jobs do robots really replace?
MIT economist Daron Acemoglu's new research puts a number on the job costs of automation.

Robots popular with older adults
A new study by psychologists from the University of Jena (Germany) does not confirm that robot skepticism among elder people is often suspected in science.

Showing robots how to do your chores
By observing humans, robots learn to perform complex tasks, such as setting a table.

Designing better nursing care with robots
Robots are becoming an increasingly important part of human care, according to researchers based in Japan.

Darn you, R2! When can we blame robots?
A recent study finds that people are likely to blame robots for workplace accidents, but only if they believe the robots are autonomous.

Robots need a new philosophy to get a grip
Robots need to know the reason why they are doing a job if they are to effectively and safely work alongside people in the near future.

How can robots land like birds?
Birds can perch on a wide variety of surfaces, thick or thin, rough or slick.

Read More: Robots News and Robots Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.