BERKELEY (CBS SF) -- Cockroaches are perhaps the most despised creature on the planet. It turns out, these creepy little critters are could actually be nature's little life-savers.
A group of scientists at UC Berkeley, have created a cockroach-inspired robot they hope can squeeze through cracks and run faster than you can flip a light switch. They plan one day to send swarms of little roach-bots on rescue missions after disasters like quakes, tornadoes and explosions have made human access impossible.
Their findings were published in an article in this month's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences titled, "Cockroaches traverse crevices, crawl rapidly in confined spaces, and inspire a soft, legged robot."
"What's impressive about these cockroaches is that they can run as fast through a quarter-inch gap as a half-inch gap, by reorienting their legs completely out to the side," said study leader Kaushik Jayaram, in a UC press release. "They're about half an inch tall when they run freely, but can squish their bodies to one-tenth of an inch — the height of two stacked pennies."
Furthermore, a real cockroach can withstand 900 times its own body weight.
Jayaram calls the roach-bot prototype CRAM -- short for 'compressible robot with articulated mechanisms.' It fit into the palm of the hand, has an exoskeletal-like collapsible shell, and can splay its legs when squashed. A CRAM robot can squeeze into crevices half its height.
Study co-author and UC professor Robert Full says CRAM robots would be perfect in search and rescue efforts where there is a lot of unstable rubble.
"If there are lots of cracks and vents and conduits, you can imagine just throwing a swarm of these robots in to locate survivors and safe entry points for first responders," he said.
Full and his colleagues have been studying animal-inspired robot designs for 30 years now using crabs, geckos and cockroaches. They are credited with the discovery that roaches can run amazingly fast on 2 legs -- about 140 miles per hour!
Right now, the CRAM-robot prototype costs about $100. Jayaram, Full and the team hopes to continue perfecting its design and eventually mass produce them for as little as $10 apiece.
So, next time you see a cockroach, don't douse it with pesticides, or smash it with the broom. At least not right away. Take a moment to behold one of nature's wonders--a bug that has survived millions of years, and could someday save your life... then, whack it.
CBSSF.com writer, producer Jan Mabry is also executive producer and host of The Bronze Report. She lives in Northern California. Follow her on Twitter @janmabr.
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