What makes cockroaches nearly indestructible? You'd be surprised to know that it has little to do with their incredibly quick reflexes.
These resilient pests have the amazing ability to run at full speed into obstacles such as concrete walls and launching themselves vertically right after the collision.
If humans were to attempt such a feat, they wouldn't be able to survive the impact alone. This is why scientists have long wondered which mechanism allows the insects to pull the stunt off.
Finally, a research team from Harvard University reveals through a paper published Feb. 13 in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface that the species' exoskeleton is mainly what keeps them safe during crashes.
Cockroaches Are Smarter Than You Think
To come up with this finding, Dr. Kaushik Jarayam, and other researchers took videos of 18 male cockroaches scampering across a makeshift track with several walls. Among these obstacles, only one was climbable. The rest were covered in petroleum jelly.
As the team watched the recordings in slow motion, they noticed that the insects just recklessly rammed their heads into the climbable wall almost all the time. It was only in a few instances that they took a little caution by using their legs as brakes and tilting their heads upwards before colliding with the obstacle.
Verifying The Findings With Roach Robots
To confirm this assumption, the team conducted the same experiment but this time around, they used a palm-sized sensorless robot that behaved like a real cockroach.
Known as the Dynamic Autonomous Sprawled Hexapod, the mechanical wonder also has six legs and a soft exoskeleton. Although it couldn't climb obstacles, it is capable of shifting from a horizontal alignment to vertical by crashing its body into one.
With this, the results of the second experiment confirmed what the researchers have previously concluded. Development of the insect-like robot could likewise be useful to engineers in terms of building tinier but more intelligent robots.
Building Indestructible Robots
Based on the study, the secret to developing a robot with a resilience similar to the insect is quite simple. It should be built as light as 16 grams like the DASH. The researchers estimated that only animals or robots that weigh under a kilogram could successfully survive a head-first collision.
Just recently, another team from Harvard University created a similar cockroach-like robot with an aim to save human lives in hard-to-navigate disaster areas. Although it is missing an exoskeleton, the Harvard Ambulatory Microrobot can run lightning fast, jump heights, climb surfaces, turn quickly, carry a significant load, and survive falls. At 12 grams, it weighs much lighter than Jarayam's robot.