Design Engineering

Cockroach-inspired robot withstands 1M times its own weight

By DE Staff   


Rugged UC Berkeley robo-bug also skitters at speeds similar to the insect that inspired it.

(Photo credit: Stephen McNally / UC Berkeley)

Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley have developed a postage stamp-sized robot with the fabled speed and durability of the insect that inspired it. Eerily similar to a cockroach, the small robo-bug weighs in at less than one tenth of a gram but still functions after being smashed by approximately 60 kg (132lbs) or about 1 million times its own weight.

“Most of the robots at this particular small scale are very fragile. If you step on them, you pretty much destroy the robot,” said Liwei Lin, a professor of mechanical engineering at UC Berkeley and senior author of a new study that describes the robot. “We found that if we put weight on our robot, it still more or less functions.”

The robot is composed of a thin sheet of piezoelectric polyvinylidene fluoride (PVDF) coated with an elastic polymer to bend the PVDF sheet like a bow. Charged by an oscillating electric field, the material quickly straightens and bends rapidly, allowing its front leg to pull the robot forward at approximately the same speed (20 body lenghs per second) as a real cockroach.

Although the robot is currently “tethered”, the Berkeley team currently working to add a battery and gas sensors while also improving its ability to steer around obstacles. The researchers envision the robot being used to explore rubble in hazardous search and rescue missions.


A study detailing the robot bug is featured in current issue of Science Robotics.


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