Roach Motel For Robots

Last night my five year old twin boys presented me with their insect books.  I found this somewhat strange, because out of all the things to color and close the school year the teacher chose bugs.  Well, it turns out this was an a brilliant exercise since we robot observers have a lot to learn from heteropteras.

The creativity in science and engineering is applying real live human and animal solutions to circuitry and wires.  My earlier posts have thousands of words written about robotic geckos, dogs, cheetahs, snakes and even flies.  Yet, the cockroach is our planet’s greatest survivor with the ability to scatter hundreds of miles per hour (relative to their weight).  At University of California in Berkeley, Professor Ron Fearing of the electrical engineering and computer science  department have created a six-legged robot to mimic the elusive roach, nicknamed DASH (Dynamic Autonomous Sprawled Hexapod).  DASH is able to do a 180 degree pendulum- like swing over ledges with the blink of an eye.  According to Fearing “quantification of these acrobatic behaviors provides biological inspiration toward the design of small, highly mobile search-and-rescue robots that can assist us during natural and human-made disasters.”

Fearings conclusion is very similar to the research being conducted at MIT’s Hatsopoulos Microfluids Lab, whereby their muse is a slug or snail. MIT has developed a series of robotic snails, each with electronic rubber feet that are about six inches long by one inch wide that are able to glide over a thin film of “mucus-like” liquid.  This breakthrough was created by using mathematical simulations to conecptualize snail locomotion. Assistant Professor Anette “Peko” Hosoi says that these mollusks “can maneuver over a range of complex terrains–even across ceilings–and they’re very mechanically simple.”

Similar to the jointless snail, MIT’s robot rubber resistant feet can navigate in chemically harsh environments without corrosion.  A snail uses a single vein’s blood flow to propel itself between the ground and its body with mucas like fluid acting as a propelling agent.  Hosoi explains that “snails have three different modes of locomotion…by pushing [the fluid] backwards, they can build up large pressures in the thin layer of mucus. The sum of all these pressures then pushes the snail forward,” Thus RoboSnail mimics this behavior through “forward and backward undulating form of movement” with some help of a non-Newtonian fluid to copy the snail’s mucas.  The end result could be a robot that is able to travel the body’s mucas and save your life – pretty amazing for escargot!

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