(Watch) Robot Cockroaches and Mind-Controlled Robotic Insects Coming Soon Near You

Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, have developed a cockroach-inspired robot that uses body streamlining to negotiate obstacles. Postdoctoral Fellow Chen Li built cockroach-like robots with rounded, streamlined carapaces that can slip through gaps thanks to their streamlined shape, outperforming typical box-like robots.

robot-cockroachMost robots deal with obstacles by avoiding them. They use maps and programmed paths to go around obstacles, and sensors to add a degree of autonomous decision-making. And that approach has worked out really well, for the most part. But tiny insect-sized robots can’t carry large, heavy, and expensive sensors.

Adaptive Micro-Robots With Minimal Sensors and Simple Controls

Therefore, the development of a tiny robot that can navigate rough terrain and tiny gaps without the use of sensors is an important innovation that could open up new applications of robotics, for example in environmental monitoring and search and rescue operations. But, after further miniaturization, very small and highly mobile robots could find also applications in combat and law enforcement – and, of course, crime.

“We showed that our robot can traverse grass-like beam obstacles at high probability, without adding any sensory feedback or changes in motor control, thanks to the thin, rounded shell that allows the robot body to roll to reduce terrain resistance.” said Li.

These new concepts will enable terrestrial robots to go through various cluttered environments with minimal sensors and simple controls.

When the robot was fitted with the cockroach-inspired rounded shell, it was much more likely to successfully move through obstacles using a roll manoeuvre similar to that observed in live cockroaches. This adaptive behavior came about with no change to the robot programming, showing that the intelligent behavior came from the shell.

The research has been published in Bioinspiration & Biomimetics with the title “Terradynamically streamlined shapes in animals and robots enhance traversability through densely cluttered terrain” (open access).

In related news, Shanghai Jiao Tong University (SJTU) postgraduate student Li Guangye, working in the Laboratory for Bio Robotics and Biological Robots, controlled a living cockroach with his mind.

The research established a functional “brain-brain interface” between human and cockroach, sending signals from the human mind to the brain of a cockroach and achieving remote wireless control of the cockroach’s action. The brain signals of the operator are picked up by EEG, decoded and converted to commands, which are sent to a backpack receiver on the back of the cockroach. The backpack then sends specific electric pulses to the cockroach’s nervous system, enabling the control of the cockroach by the operator.

Merging the two approaches would permit creating mind-controlled robotic insects.

Images from UC Berkeley and Wikimedia Commons.

Giulio Prisco is a freelance writer specialized in science, technology, business and future studies.