Running robots modeled on cockroaches

They’ll outlast us

Guinea hens and cockroaches might not seem to have much in common, but they are both providing inspiration for a team working to develop the world’s first running robot.

“Humans can run, but frankly our capabilities are nothing compared to what insects and some other animals can do,” said John Schmitt, an assistant professor in the School of Mechanical, Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering at Oregon State University.

“Cockroaches are incredible. They can run fast, turn on a dime, move easily over rough terrain, and react to perturbations faster than a nerve impulse can travel.”

Walking robots already exist, but none can run at all well, and even walking uses up an enormous amount of energy and computing power.

“A cockroach doesn’t think much about running, it just runs. And it only slows down about 20 percent when going over blocks that are three times higher than its hips,” said Schmitt. “That’s just remarkable, and an indication that their stability has to do with how they are built, rather than how they react.”

The OSU researchers are trying to identify some of the basic biological and mechanical principles that allow certain animals to run so well and effortlessly.

In a computer model, they’ve created a concept that would allow a running robot to recover from a change in ground surface almost as well as a guinea hen. They are studying how the interplay of concepts such as energy storage and expenditure, sensor and feedback requirements, and leg angles can produce recovery from such perturbations.

Ultimately, the team hopes to build robots that can efficiently run over rough terrain without using significant computing power.

The findings appear in Bioinspiration and Biomimetics.