In what feels like a definite warning of an oncoming dystopia teeming with robot insects, a team of UC Berkeley academics has developed a set of robotic cockroaches that can help each other climb stairs.
The so called VelociRoACH is able to boost a pal up a short slope, before being dragged onto the surface after it.
The robots use a tether that can be attached and released, allowing them to run synchronously and "provide a tether assist force while running".
It's just one model in a suite of robotic cockroaches designed and developed by the same team. One model is able to both withstand weight up to 900 times its own body weight, as well as run at high speed under this pressure, and is able to fit into holes one-tenth of an inch small. And in another experiment, the VelociRoACH teamed up with a robotic bird – the h2Bird – to traverse difficult terrain.
All of the robots have been designed to replicate the behaviour and biology of a cockroach and, although all models are still in prototype stage, are being designed to be used in search and rescue disasters.
"In the event of an earthquake, first responders need to know if an area of rubble is stable and safe, but the challenge is that most robots can't get into the rubble," said Robert Full, who works with the robots. "But 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."
"This is only a prototype, but it shows the feasibility of a new direction using what we think are the most effective models for soft robots, that is, animals with exoskeletons," he said. "Insects are the most successful animals on earth. Because they intrude nearly everywhere, we should look to them for inspiration as to how to make a robot that can do the same."