Feb 132011
 
Common household roaches A. German cockroach, ...

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Researchers Use Common Cockroach to Fine-Tune Robots of the Future

Ask anyone who has ever tried to squash a skittering cockroach — they’re masters of quick and precise movement. Now Tel Aviv University is using their maddening locomotive skills to improve robotic technology too.

Prof. Amir Ayali of Tel Aviv University’s Department of Zoology says the study of cockroaches has already inspired advanced robotics. Robots have long been based on these six-legged houseguests, whose nervous system is relatively straightforward and easy to study. But until now, walking machines based on the cockroach’s movement have been influenced by outside observations and mainly imitate the insect’s appearance, not its internal mechanics.

He and his fellow researchers are delving deeper into the neurological functioning of the cockroach. This, he says, will give engineers the information they need to design robots with a more compact build and greater efficiency in terms of energy, time, robustness and rigidity. Such superior robotics can be even used to explore new terrain in outer space.

This research was recently presented at the International Neuroethology conference in Spain as well as the Israeli Neuroscience Meeting in December.

Roach control systems as the ideal model

According to Prof. Ayali, it’s clear why robotics have been inspired by these unsavory insects. A cockroach is supported by at least three legs at all times during movement, which provides great stability. “Not only do cockroaches arguably exhibit one of the most stable ways to walk, called a tripod gate,” he explains, “but they move equally quickly on every kind of terrain. Their speed and stability is almost too good to be true.”

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