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Industrie 4.0

Factory robots learn from cockroaches

Scientists at the University of Cologne have succeeded in demonstrating that fast-moving insects change their locomotive style when they are not in a big hurry. The findings could give better legs to robotic solutions.

27 Dec. 2017
Marie-Lucine Tapyuli
Festo AG
Factory robots learn from cockroaches (picture: Festo AG)

Transferring natural phenomena to technology is considered a promising research area. A team led by Cologne-based zoologist Dr. Tom Weihmann took a closer look at cockroaches – and discovered that, like fast mammals, they change their gaits at medium speeds. The change in leg coordination is accompanied by a change in the mechanisms that stabilize their movements.

In principle, leg-based drives also give robots greater off-road capability than do wheel-based drives, the researchers explain. However, especially at high speeds, such robots consume much more energy – in contrast to many animals. Weihmann: "Adapting the coordination pattern of robotic legs to fast-moving cockroaches offers a way to make fast movements more economical and thus improve the robot’s endurance in tough conditions." Even while navigating slippery surfaces at high speeds the cockroaches managed to avoid coordination blunders and falls.

Researchers are also taking a close look at nature in other areas. In the latest issue of “trends in automation” (2/2017), Festo, for example, presents its bionic OctopusGripper , which grips using silicone tentacles. And scientists from the University of Illinois have developed a flying robot that flies like a bat. The SZ reports that it could be used in cases where taking off is too dangerous for larger drones. The magazine Wired even went so far as to explain "why animals are the future of robotics".