The San Francisco Chronicle carries an interesting story about how a Stanford team is modeling robots to mimic cockroaches' speed and agility.
The lowly cockroach, loathed as an abhorrent creature worth crushing beneath one's shoe, has found respect in an unlikely place -- a robotics laboratory at Stanford University.
Led by engineering Professor Mark Cutkosky, Stanford researchers are building robots that will replicate the cockroach's remarkable speed and agility. They are among a growing number of scientists and engineers who believe that the robots of tomorrow will scurry and run and jump like insects.
Researchers are cribbing from nature as they build ever-smaller robots that can navigate the trickiest terrain with ease. In their minds, robotic cockroaches, spiders and even crickets will one day venture where humans fear to tread, from mine-laden battlefields to distant planets.
Many current robots, like the Mars Sojourner, have wheels, while insects have legs. Still, why a robotic cockroach? Because they're fast and tough.
Some cockroaches can move 50 times their body length in one second. On a human scale, that's about 200 mph, which explains why cockroaches vanish as soon as the kitchen light is turned on.
The article explains why the researchers chose to build robots with six legs and gives some more details about their current performance.
The robots are about 4 inches long and weigh roughly 8 ounces. They scurry around Cutkosky's cluttered laboratory, making a "phhhhttt phhhhttt phhhhttt" sound as the compressed air pulses into their legs, at about 28 inches per second. That's roughly 7 body lengths per second -- fast, but not as fast as the 50 body lengths the American cockroach can cover each second.
It's not the first time that robotic cockroaches are built.
Roger Quinn, a mechanical engineer at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, pioneered the field in 1990.
"We picked the cockroach because it's a good all-around athlete," Quinn said. "It's the decathlete of the insect world."
Quinn also built robotic crickets. And because legs do not move as quickly as wheels, he invented the "wheg," "a robot that uses Y-shaped legs that turn like a wheel."
Source: Chuck Squatriglia, San Francisco Chronicle, May 19, 2003
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