A Robot Cockroach May One Day Save Your Life
October 26, 2016
Excerpted from Haaretz — One day, Dr. David Zarrouk of BGU’s Department of Mechanical Engineering was doing a computer simulation of a robot cockroach he and his team were working on when he noticed something strange: the robot did not only go straight.
The robot roach is powered by a single motor with three legs on either side. This should mean the little robot shouldn’t be able to move any way other than straight ahead.
“Yet, from the very first step, it deviated from the straight and narrow,” says Dr. Zarrouk.
The researcher then repeated the experiment with a robot cockroach named 1Star, directing the legs on either side of the body to go at the same speed, and got the same unexpected results.
“My car has only one engine,” Dr. Zarrouk explains, “but I have another engine — my hands. Say the only input is the engine, without hands. The car will go straight all the time.”
So why then was this robot roach able to break away from its expected straight path? The answer has to do with the rigidity of the robot’s legs.
“We discovered that the difference of rigidity between the sides can be manipulated,” Dr. Zarrouk says, resulting in the scientists being able to use acceleration and deceleration to manipulate the roach’s direction.
1Star is the creation of BGU and Stanford University, and the first robot to be maneuverable in this way using just one motor.
The implications of this discovery are vast. Armies of robot roaches could one day go into areas where humans can’t, like collapsed buildings where people may be trapped, or places where there may be harmful gas leaks.
“We shattered the myth. We proved that a robot can move forward, backward and turn with just one motor,” Dr. Zarrouk says.
“We believe our discovery will lead robotics in the direction of heightened performance with simpler mechanics.”