If you’ve ever seen cockroaches scuttle across the floor and out of reach, you know how frustratingly fast they can be. A researcher at the University of California, Berkeley’s Biomimetic Millisystems Lab has capitalized on that ability with the VELOCIRoACH, a tiny plastic and cardboard cockroach modeled on the American cockroach (P. americana) that’s the second fastest robot in the world, coming in behind Boston Dynamics’ menacing LS3 and tying for second place with the RHex robot.
The six-legged cockroach, which can travel at almost nine feet per second (about a ten-minute mile), improves upon a real cockroach’s speed with springy legs. As New Scientist explains, the VELOCIRoACH features C-shaped legs that touch the ground 15 times each second; three legs are on the ground at any given moment in order to maintain stability. It doesn’t avoid obstacles, instead bouncing its front up and pulling over anything in its away. While not the fastest robot in the world, VELOCIRoACH is the fastest for its size, moving 27 times its body length (10 cm) each second. The previous title-holder was iSprawl, another cockroach-inspired robot that runs at 16 body lengths per second.
VELOCIRoACH is made using something called the Smart Composite Microstructures process, which can produce small robots quickly and cheaply. Duncan Haldane, the researcher behind the robot, explains the process in an email: "The Smart Composite Microstructures process creates an exoskeleton-like structure composed of rigid and flexible segments, similar to what you would find on a cockroach. This bug-like body is folded up from a flat sheet, like origami."
The next step for Haldane is to allow the robot, which can carry four times its body weight (under a gram), to survive the wrath of the human foot, perhaps by popping up after being stepped on. Once it has been perfected, the VELOCIRoACH could be a welcome addition to our current arsenal of disaster robots. After all, only the LS3 could make it to the disaster area faster.