I am one of those people on this planet who fear cockroaches. It is not the fear of being bitten or harmed. It’s the fear of having to look at something so disgusting and gross (this is my personal opinion though). If human hate could kill cockroaches, it would have become extinct long back. However, Irony is the reality. Most researchers believe the roach’s fossil record dates back to approximately 300 million B.C., a period predating dinosaurs by nearly 70 million years. Being something which has outlived possibly most of the organisms on earth, researchers are studying it including a few from UC Berkely.

Postdoctoral Fellow at UC Berkely, studied the maneuvering ability of cockroaches with rounded shells. He saw that their simple streamlined shape allowed them to easily roll and slip through gaps in a clutter of objects, such as grass and leaves on a forest floor. So he found a brilliant application of this ability.

In the field of robotics, the majority of robots have been facing the problem of avoiding obstacles which largely depends on using sensors to map out the environment and algorithms that plan a path to go around obstacles. However, when the terrain becomes densely cluttered, especially as gaps between obstacles become comparable or even smaller than robot size, this approach starts to run into problems as a clear path cannot be mapped.

Hence shells of various types was added to a cockroach-like robot and it was found that a similarly rounded, oval carapace allowed the robot to slip through gaps, while typical box-like robots are often stopped dead in their tracks. This robot is believed to inspire the design of future terrestrial robots to use in a wide variety of scenarios, from monitoring the environment to search and rescue operations.

You never know when a cockroach might inspire a new idea!!

—- By Ushanandini Mohanraj



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