Scientists are studying cockroaches, one of the most hated creatures on the planet, to help develop an agile and virtually indestructible robot that can crawl through walls in search of survivors in disaster zones. Ben Gruber reports.
STORY: Nasty. Disgusting. Ugly. These are just some of the words normally associated with cockroaches. But for scientists in the world of bio-inspired robotics - roaches are perfect. SOUNDBITE (English) ROBERT FULL, PROFESSOR OF INTEGRATIVE BIOLOGY, UC BERKELEY, SAYING: "You might think the best shape changers are kind of like an octopus or a worm or a slug, but yet we know that cockroaches can go through these tiny little cracks." Researchers at UC Berkeley put roaches through a series of experiments that involved the insects running though tiny tunnels a quarter of their size and fitting through openings just millimeters wide. SOUNDBITE (English) ROBERT FULL, PROFESSOR OF INTEGRATIVE BIOLOGY, UC BERKELEY, SAYING: "In order to understand how they can go in these little spaces we actually did CT scans to look inside and we found no hard part. Exoskeletons in general are composed of stiff but not too stiff plates and tubes connected by compliant membranes and those can all be compressed but still function effectively." The researchers found that roaches can run nearly full speed even when squeezing through an area that compresses their body down to half of its size. Additionally, the insects' malleable structure can withstand forces 900 times their body weight without injury. It's this list of impressive credentials that has led to CRAM - short for Compressible Robot with Articulated Microstructures. A fancy name for what basically amounts to a robotic roach. SOUNDBITE (English) ROBERT FULL, PROFESSOR OF INTEGRATIVE BIOLOGY, UC BERKELEY, SAYING: "It's palm sized, it's bigger so it can contain more payload, sensors and things in the future and it can be compressed in and it can still run in that confined space much like what we see in the animal." 'Ick' factor aside. It's a roaches' uncanny ability to crawl through walls in your house that lays the foundation for robots like this to crawl through spaces in disaster zones to search for survivors. So while you may be completely disgusted by the creepy critters - it's time to give the cockroach a bit of respect.