Cockroaches are way faster than you and me. Relative to their body weight, they can flee at the equivalent of hundreds of miles per hour and are gone long before your newspaper hits the floor.
But researchers from the University of California at Berkeley recently described how cockroaches can also run toward a ledge and then flip around to its underside in the blink of an eye, effectively disappearing from predators. Now they're working on robots that can do the same.
Geckos can also perform this escape act, which involves using the hind legs as anchors on the ledge while the body swings under it.
"Both species ran rapidly at 12-15 body lengths-per-second toward the ledge without braking, dove off the ledge, attached their feet by claws like a grappling hook, and used a pendulum-like motion that can exceed one meter-per-second to swing around to an inverted position under the ledge, out of sight," Jean-Michel Mongeau of UC Berkeley's biophysics group and colleagues write in PLoS ONE.
With collaborators including Ron Fearing, a professor of electrical engineering and computer science at UC Berkeley, the researchers were able to reproduce the trick in their six-legged Dynamic Autonomous Sprawled Hexapod () robot, already a tough little bugger than can survive 92-foot drops, simply with a bit of Velcro. Check it out in the pic below.
That's a neat trick. The robo-bug could be useful in several ways, they write.
"Quantification of these acrobatic behaviors provides biological inspiration toward the design of small, highly mobile search-and-rescue robots that can assist us during natural and human-made disasters."
Or it could give evil robots one more tool at their disposal in the war to enslave us. Take your pick.