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Feb 09, 2016 08:33 AM EST

Cockroaches Inspire Small Robots Designed to Search Disaster Sites

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Tiny robots modeled after cockroaches could be the future of natural disaster response, as they would be able to reach the most inaccessible and dangerous areas of a disaster site.

Published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the new study details how the robot would be most useful in locating victims trapped in the rubble. The robot would be small and have a soft body that would allow it to wiggle its way through crevices and small spaces.

"We can imagine swarms of these robots helping to locate survivors trapped in the rubble from tornadoes or earthquakes or explosions," study co-author Robert Full, an integrative biologist at the University of California, Berkeley, told Live Science. "Cockroaches are incredibly good at getting through small spaces, so we always had to keep an eye on them to make sure they didn't escape from our experiments."

The study's lead author, Dr. Kaushik Jayaram, a PhD candidate at UC, Berkeley during the study, said the robot is about the size of a person's palm, but is able to fit into spaces half its size.

"This is only a prototype, but it shows the feasibility of a new direction using what we think are the most effective models for soft robots, that is, animals with exoskeletons," Full said in a press release. "Insects are the most successful animals on earth. Because they intrude nearly everywhere, we should look to them for inspiration as to how to make a robot that can do the same."

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