Some of you might have a fear of cockroaches. Most times you might feel like your heart would stop or that you might want to run away whenever you see a cockroach, but what if that same cockroach is running to save you?
A team of researchers at UC Berkeley has designed a prototype of a robot that looks just like a cockroach. The robot, which is called CRAM (Comprehensive Robot with Articulated Mechanisms), is thought to be the first step in creating an extremely effective search-and-rescue robot.
What Exactly is CRAM?
The team of researchers at UC Berkeley has named their creation CRAM, which is a robot prototype that has a jointed exoskeleton and a soft casing that enables it to shapeshift and squeeze into small spaces.
Similar to a cockroach, CRAM can get through areas that are less than half its height while still maintaining full speed. They can achieve this feat by using various parts of their legs to push themselves depending on their stance.
It will be a while, of course, before CRAM can manage feats like squeezing into crevices that are 1/10th of an inch, although the findings on the tests conducted on the prototype show great promise. At present, CRAM is still in the prototype stage and hasn’t been tested in any real-world setting. According to one of the researchers, the next phase is to find out which materials would be most effective in a disaster situation. In due course, CRAM may be equipped with a wider range of movement, such as the ability to turn, jump, and climb.
To ascertain how the body of the robotic cockroach responds to different situations, the researchers constructed a series of experiments. They created three custom apparatus, with each apparatus aiming to emphasize a specific element of movement: “crevice traversal”, “confined-space crawling”, and the reactions of cockroaches to “dynamic compressive forces” while moving.
The “crevice traversal” apparatus assessed the movements of the cockroach in tiny horizontal spaces, whereas the “confined-space crawling” apparatus assessed their movements in tiny vertical spaces. Based on the study, the cockroaches were able to keep on moving swiftly in horizontal spaces that are as small as 3mm and 4mm in vertical spaces.
The team also tested the exoskeleton of the cockroach by applying force on its body as it was trying to pass through a tight space. They discovered that the cockroaches can withstand a force of 300 times their body weight even when squeezing into the narrowest spaces and a force of 900 times their body weight without incurring any damage.
The findings on these tests alerted the researchers to a new form of movement, which they call “body-friction legged crawling”. The cockroaches moved efficiently when subjected to an “intermediate” level of friction by using a mixture of “body drag” and “friction-dominated leg thrust”.
The researchers captured these tests on film and in slow motion in order to see clearly what was happening to the bodies of the cockroaches while they moved. The results contributed to the conception of the design of the prototype, which is roughly the size of a person’s palm, and made of poster board and polyester.
What Inspired the Creation of CRAM?
Robert Full, who is a professor at Berkeley, and his student Kaushik Jayaram had the inspiration from the extraordinarily flexible cockroach to create a robot version with an exoskeleton that enables it to be compressed to less than half its height so that it can get through confined spaces.
In a paper that was published recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, both professor and student showed how a cockroach is able to get its body through tight spaces and still keep moving, owing chiefly to an exoskeleton made of soft materials.
The researchers conducted a series of experiments and eventually built a device from several folding exoskeleton-like plates. They hypothesize that its flexibility and strength could make it perfect for searching collapsed buildings.
What Makes CRAM the Perfect Rescue Robot?
Furthermore, Jayaram and Full thought that the unique way that a cockroach moves and its universal resistance to destruction make it the best design for a search-and-rescue robot since a rescue bot would need to be able to go through rubble and cramped spaces. To further prove his point, Full even stated: “Cockroaches are great at revealing nature’s secrets about design.”
The experiment also showed a significant and new trend in robotics. Many scientists and corporations are quickly becoming fascinated in soft or malleable robot designs because of the different physical benefits they present.
By now, I bet that if you happened to be trapped under a pile of trouble, this little cockroach might be the one thing you’d want to see scurrying towards you.