Researchers at UC Berkeley have developed a robotic cockroach that can crawl through the tightest of gaps. The team began by studying actual cockroaches, observing how they moved through the densely packed rainforest floor. While some obstacles are pushed past or climbed over, the cockroaches frequently rolled their body at an almost-90-degree angle to scamper through openings. The next step was to fit these real-world 'roaches with artificial shells and see how this aided or hampered their mobility. The result was perhaps obvious: the less cylindrical the shell, the less effective the insects were at performing the roll manoeuvre.
Observations recorded, the researchers set about fitting a six-legged robot with a rounded shell. With the new exoskeleton in place, the 'bot was able to traverse a obstacle course in much the same way as the a cockroach would, all without any additional programming or sensors -- the new behavior was born simply by rounding off the body. The team hopes to follow up this discovery by searching for other shapes in nature that could improve robots' ability to advance through difficult terrain.