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Cockroaches Offer Inspiration for Running Robots

Researchers are using the "bioinspiration" from cockroaches to build the world's first legged robot that is capable of running effortlessly over rough terrain. If the engineers succeed, they may owe their success to what's being learned from these insects and other animals. The latest findings outline how animals use their legs to manage energy storage and expenditure, and why this is so important for running stability.

"Humans can run, but frankly our capabilities are nothing compared to what insects and some other animals can do," said John Schmitt, an assistant professor in the School of Mechanical, Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering at Oregon State University. "Cockroaches are incredible. They can run fast, turn on a dime, move easily over rough terrain, and react to perturbations faster than a nerve impulse can travel."

Within certain limitations, Schmitt said, cockroaches don't even have to think about running - they just do it, with muscle action that is instinctive and doesn't require reflex control. That, in fact, is part of what the engineers are trying to achieve. If successful, Schmitt said, running robots could serve valuable roles in difficult jobs, such as military operations, law enforcement or space exploration.

Image credit: Jupiter Images