The Things We Learn From Cockroaches!

No one likes cockroaches. They’re dirty. They’re icky. They’re dirty and icky.

While most of us see absolutely no purpose for these invading pests, scientists have begun to apply principles of nature to the study lab. For years scientists have struggled to perfect the workings of human robotics. Meaning, they could develop a robotic hand to grab a coffee mug off a table, but it couldn’t grab it that well. It could never pick up that mug in the same way a human hand would. Variables such as weight, size and balance could not be computed fast enough that a robot could compensate for those unknown and changing variables fast enough. What if that same robotic hand went from picking up a 10 pound bag of potatoes to a 2 ounce campaign glass? How would it decipher how much force and leverage to use to pick up both items in a safe and efficient manner?

Robotic Hand (Credit: William Sacco, Yale University)

Inside Science New Service tells us that professor Robert Full from UC Berkeley began studying the walking mechanics of cockroaches almost 30 years ago. His studies and findings over those years have recently influenced scientists Robert Howe (Harvard) and Aaron Dollar (Yale) as they have begun to redesign their version of a robotic hand. Cockroaches are able to travel at higher speeds (relatively speaking) along very uneven surfaces. The actual mechanics of their legs, working in unison, help compensate for bumps along the road.

So as Howe and Dollar have taken a special interest in our dirty and icky little friends, let’s not forget that even cockroaches can show us a thing to two.

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