A few scientists and engineers from UC Berkeley are building the next generation of robots with some biomimicry. A prototype of DASH (black box up with the legs), (Image via U.C. Berkeley

Hitting a wall appears to be something that not just runners experience. As a matter of fact, everybody has hit a wall once in life, literally or figuratively. Literally hitting walls is life-threatening, especially for those with a weak body like babies. However, the answer is not necessarily a stronger body like some researchers discovered recently.

In one of U.C. Berkeley’s labs, a doctor in science, Kaushik Jayaram, and his professor, Robert Full, discovered that cockroaches had a unique ability to use a wall or any obstacle on their way to accelerate their course instead of trying to go around it. When running fast, the insects would use obstacles to go faster, like the fire that thrusts the cannonball out of the cannon. That may be mere animal creativity, but that creativity has inspired an expert in electric engineering and computer sciences, Ron Fearing, to invent a robot version of a cockroach. The team called it DASH, for Dynamic Autonomous Sprawled Hexapod.

DASH is a tiny robot that would fit in the palm of a hand, with an external skeleton that looks like a roach. The researchers even gave it the six legs necessary to reproduce the same physical aptitudes as a cockroach. But, contrary to most robots, this one does not have any sensor. Jayaram explained to the New York Times that the body of DASH is doing all the analysis and computation necessary to initiate a climb automatically when met with an obstacle. This discovery and research will first eliminate the cost of sensors on robots. Previously, robots used their sensors to feel their obstacles and decide the next course of actions; but that method made robots slower in accomplishing tasks. So, now DASH will also save time for scientists.

For now, DASH is still at the experimental phased. Researchers Full and Fearing are already looking for ways to finalize the mechanical cockroach such as making the legs adhere comfortably to surfaces during the climb while ensuring the climb happens in less than 80 milliseconds. In addition, the research team realized that they must keep the weight of DASH or future similar robots around 2 pounds or less because any additional pound means the risk of damage or injury. Cockroaches are naturally designed to absorb shocks without “breaking.” That might explain why cockroaches can survive the nuclear bomb.

Besides all the promises and dreams around their research, Full and the others confess in their report that this model of robot is also testing the conventional beliefs inside the robotic society. Like any breakthrough, engineers must be patient and endure the process and observe the various applications of the concept.