Scientists develop a search-and-rescue robot based on a cockroach

Like a cockroach, this robot can squeeze through small spaces and be used by first-response rescue teams to find people in disaster-stricken areas.

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Cockroaches have a remarkable ability to squeeze themselves through remarkably small cracks. And even flattened to half their height, they can move at incredible speeds. As well as being able to slip through cracks, cockroaches can withstand forces of 900 times their own body weight without any injury.

Scientists at University of California, Berkeley did numerous tests on cockroaches to discover the secret of their shells. The team is led by Kaushik Jayaram, who has a PhD from UC Berkeley and is a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University. 

The research team’s findings have led to the development of a robot that can get through small cracks, and could be used to crawl through rubble on search-and-rescue missions after tornadoes, earthquakes and explosions. The compressible robot is called CRAM: “compressible robot with articulated mechanisms”.

In the event of an earthquake for example, CRAM could be used by first-response teams to help determine if the rubble is stable, locate survivors and to find entry points for rescuers to free them.

Jayaram’s robot is about the size of a human palm, splays its legs when squashed, and has a plastic shield covering its back – similar to the shell of a cockroach. At the moment it is only a prototype, but it opens the door for further development of robots with insect-inspired, soft exoskeletons.