Rigid and Flexible Robots: Inspired by Insects

We often find that few insects are hard to break. All of us had seen that cockroaches hard to kill. many insects on this earth having good combination of rigid and flexible parts that gives insect exoskeletons and wings their resilience, biomechanicists are making robots tougher. "This structural property of insects can be used in robotics to have similar robustness in robots" said by  Harvard University roboticist Robert Wood.

                  Video Courtesy: http://www.sciencemag.org                    

Recent cars incorporate a approach: body of car absorb impacts by crumpling, sacrificing the structure to protect the occupants.  

How cockroaches do this, is analyzed by integrative biologist Robert Full at the University of California (UC), Berkeley, and Ph.D. student Kaushik Jayaram entice the insects to pass through smaller slits and video shoot it with a high speed camera. They found that when cockroaches 9 mm tall reach to 3 mm slit, it inspect the opening with its antenna. Then it pass its head through slit, follows with its legs, and start to pulling the rest of its body. The ability to squeeze through a tiny slit, “goes far beyond any other animals that we have measured, except maybe the octopus,” says Stacey Combes, a biologist at UC Davis. Some designers pursuing model for the soft robots but it cant match the speed of a cockroach. 

Harvard Postdoc Andrew Mountcastle said that a similar blending of hard and soft parts enables bees to survive their aerial obstacle courses. With the help of high speed video, he found that bee’s wing actually buckle during collision and back into place. He also observed that a big patch of an elastic protein called resilin about 65% down the wing. He and combes hypothesized that the patch serves as a hinge.
Roach exoskeleton and the insect wing inspiring the robot design. Jayaram has developed a 75 mm tall robot named CRAM. CRAM has roach like exoskeleton and legs with spines which works in the uncompressed and compressed position. This robot can squeeze to one half to its height and still can move 5 to ten times faster than soft robots, Jayaram says.


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