Gross, Roach-Like Robot May Save Lives During Natural Disasters (VIDEO)

First Posted: Feb 09, 2016 07:51 AM EST

Gross, roach-inspired robots may help during natural disasters. Scientists have created the CRAM robot, which can crawl even when squashed to half its size.

The researchers were inspired by American cockroaches, which can penetrate the tightest joints and seams in less than a second. This inspired the creation of a robot that can squeeze through cracks, which is a new capability for search-and rescue in rubble resulting from tornadoes, earthquakes and explosions.

"What's impressive about these cockroaches is that they can run as fast through a quarter-inch gap as a half-inch gap, by reorienting their legs completely out to the side," said Kaushik Jayaram, one of the researchers, in a news release. "They're about half an inch tall when they run freely, but can squish their bodies to one-tenth of an inch-the height of two stacked pennies."

The robot itself is relatively simple and palm-sized. It can splay its legs outward when squashed, and is capped with a plastic shield that's similar to the tough, smooth wings covering the back of a cockroach. Called CRAM, short for Compressible Robot with Articulated Mechanisms, the robot can squeeze into and run through crevices that are half its height.

"In the event of an earthquake, first responders need to know if an area of rubble is stable and safe, but the challenge is, most robots can't get into rubble," said Robert Full, one of the researchers, in a news release. "But if there are lots of cracks and vents and conduits, you can imagine just throwing a swarm of these robots in to locate survivors and safe entry points for first responders."

The findings are published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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