Scientists Create Robot Cockroaches to Detect Toxic Gas

(Image credit: UC Berkeley)

UC Berkeley researchers have created a cockroach robot that is harder to kill than a real cockroach because why the hell not. Here’s a an itch-inducing video demo of real cockroaches and roachbots in action:

“Cockroaches are known for their stealth, speed, and general squish-a-bility,” say the researchers in the video while showing a critter zooming through a 3-millimeter tall crevice. Their new robot was inspired by these abilities.

But unlike actual cockroaches — which will most likely explode like a piñata of guts and goo if you step on them — the robots seem to be a lot more resilient. Their demonstration shows how you can can step on them with 60 kilograms of pressure and the roachbot will keep on going as if nothing happened. For a critter that is only 20 to 65 milligrams in weight depending on the version, being able to sustain one million times their own weight is quite the feat.

The scientists also demonstrate how the roachbot can run at 20 times their body length per second. In other words, the 3-centimeter version of the roachbot can run at 60 centimeters per second. These things can even carry six times their weight.

The secret of their abilities lies on their simple architecture: a thin layer of piezoelectric material that expands and contracts as electricity runs through it. The researchers say that, combined with an elastic polymer layer adhered to the metal, this contraction and expansion translates into motion, a “leapfrogging” action that pushes the robot forward.

The UC Berkeley scientists are working on attaching a battery and a gas sensor to the robots to make them run into tiny spaces in order to detect toxic gases and fumes. Good. They don’t need to work on my nightmares tonight, that’s for sure. Thanks once again scientists! And make sure to send this video to Charlie Brooker for the next Black Mirror episode.