If something looks like a cockroach and behaves like a cockroach – well, don’t be so sure. It could be a Russia-created miniature robot which can spy and find people trapped under debris. Scientists say this is the smallest roach robot ever.
Russian scientists from the Kaliningrad-based Immanuel Kant Baltic Federal University have presented a prototype of a 100-percent machine cockroach robot that they have developed for a company whose name hasn’t been disclosed.
The university’s website says the company’s requirements for the project were very clear: they wanted the robot to look like an existing cockroach, act like one and be the right size.
“Probably that was the most difficult part – to find balance between those three requirements,” confesses the project’s head engineer, Aleksey Belousov.
“For example Berkeley University has been working on their cockroach for the past four years, but they didn’t have to make it look like an insect, so it’s faster than ours. But it can’t turn at speed and it doesn’t look like a real cockroach at all. Whereas we were specifically told to create a cockroach robot on time and on budget,” Belousov explains.
Sticking to the budget was not easy. The team chose the large South American cockroach, Blabbers Giganteus, as their initial prototype, but couldn’t get hold of one so they had to study a smaller species, the Blabbers Craniifer, commonly known as ‘death head’ because of the pattern on its head that resembles a skull.
“We had to develop many things from scratch. For example there’s a company in Austria that produces gearing for legs, but a unit for one robot would have cost us near US$9,000 while our whole budget is US$22,500,” said the university’s leading engineer, Danil Borchevkin.
The robot is about 10cm long, moves with a speed of up to 30cm per second (one-third the speed of a real cockroach), is equipped with light sensors, contact and non-contact probes that allow it to move without bumping into things.
So far it can work autonomously for 20 minutes, but the scientists plan to stretch that time by December. Come the end of the year, the robot will also get its own navigation system to allow users to program its route.
Researchers also promise to produce a camo version next week especially for the Russian military, which has already expressed interest in the robot because it can carry a weight of up to 10 grams and could potentially carry portable cameras into enclosed spaces.
Previously scientists have worked with bionic cockroach robots.
Engineers at a Texas university have developed a system to remote control cockroaches via a miniature computer, which is wired to the nervous system. It’s hoped they could be used for search and rescue missions as the critters can move about in tiny spaces.
The idea of using such small robots for lifesaving operations is also not new.
Scientists at North Carolina State University equipped cockroaches with electronic backpacks and microphones that control the insects’ movements and help locate humans.