The ability to add remote controlled computer packages to real live cockroaches has been around for a while, with talk of them being used in search and rescue missions. But this approach has its limitations. Delicate control and gaining enough information back has been problematical. Also, cockroach movement, like that of so many animals and insects, can be chaotic and hard to control. To solve this the idea of putting robots on cockroaches has been taken one step further, with cockroaches chaotic movements translated into robotic roaches. Various six leg robots with motors to control leg movements have been developed. Sensors feed back information instantaneously about ground contact, while a single control processor allows the walking pattern of the robot to be adjusted automatically in response to its environment and terrain, something that wasn’t possible when robot packs were attached to live cockroaches.
Robotic roaches can now negotiate rough terrain and walk uphill in the most energy-saving manner. If one foot loses contact with the ground, then programmed ‘chaotic behaviour’ kicks in and random gait combinations are tried until stability is regained. This new technology has been made possible with the wonders of 3D printing. Robotic roaches, of all shapes and sizes, created from 3D printed parts have been around for a while, but their ability to reach fast speeds has been limited. Berkeley University’s robotics department has been working on this problem and its latest creation is insanely fast. Its robotic roach is called the X2-VelociRoACH and it has a top speed of 4.9 meter per second. In fact, it is so fast controllers are in danger of losing track of it!
The purpose of this robotic cockroach was to explore the maximum attainable speed of a legged robot, and they have certainly done that. While not technically the fastest robot ever made, it is probably the fastest legged robot of its size. The speed of the VelociRoACH’s legs are directly controlled by its motors, so the higher the engine is cranked, the faster the robotic roach travels, until the point is reached where there is a danger of the roach falling apart! The ability to use 3D printing has enabled the technology of these roaches to develop faster and to reach these higher speeds. Previous components had not been able to hold the drive plate secure at high velocity, so key components were 3D printed to make them as robust as possible. Bearings were mounted in 3D printed plastic, which in turn was connected to the crank with a shoulder bolt. As well as being insanely fast, this robotic roach can reach stride frequencies of up to 45 Hz. When animals, such as cockroaches, wish to increase their speed, they increase their stride length, rather than their actual leg movements. Increasing stride length with the robotic roaches becomes problematic as it requires more articulations and more parts, leading to a greater risk of failure. So, it would appear that, for the moment, the insanely fast robotic roach has reached its maximum speed. But for a robot made from 3D printed parts, it is not a bad speed!