Introducing a robot cockroach that can save lives
Scientists think these robot bugs could scurry into the nooks and crannies of disaster zones.
If you're afraid of robots, and you're afraid of cockroaches, take a deep breath before reading this story.
Israeli scientists have invented a robot cockroach. Why, you ask? Why didn't they just stick with robot locusts and call it a day (and then grab a drink from their robot bartenders)? As it turns out, they've actually got a very good reason: robot cockroaches can be used to scuttle around areas that have been hit by disasters and provide help.
It all started with Dr. David Zaruk, an engineer at Ben-Gurion University in southern Israel, who tried out a computer simulation of a robot cockroach. He realized that, though the robot only had one motor, it somehow managed to move in multiple directions, something that the scientist had never seen before. Normally, robots with only one motor can only move straight, but this robot was different.
“From the very first step, it deviated from the straight and narrow,” Zaruk explained to a local newspaper. “My car has only one engine. But I have another engine – my hands. Say the only input is the engine, without hands. The car will go straight all the time.”
So he went ahead and built an actual robot cockroach to see if it could do the same thing in the physical world. It could.
“We discovered that the difference of rigidity between the sides can be manipulated,” he continued.
By changing the robot's acceleration and deceleration, Zaruk found he could get the robot to change directions on command, go backwards and even move in circles.
In addition to being interesting, this might also be a breakthrough for search and rescue missions, which have long relied on creative, somewhat unusual inventions. Scientists have long been trying to make robots smaller to help with these missions – that way, they can get into places humans can't, like collapsed car garages or holes in walls.
“We want to develop tiny robots for search and rescue missions, so we want to miniaturize the robots as much as possible,” Zaruk said. When a robot only needs one motor, it's a lot easier to make the robot smaller.
“We shattered the myth. We proved that one can move forward, backward and turn with just one motor,” Zaruk explained. “A development like this leads people to think in simpler terms. We believe our discovery will lead robotics in the direction of heightened performance with simpler mechanics.”
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