Cockroach inspires Oregon State robotics research

Cockroach inspires Oregon State robotics research »Play Video

CORVALLIS, Ore. -- Two Oregon State University researchers say cockroaches are much more than household pests: They're biomechanical wonders with big implications for the future of military tanks, robots and space rovers.

The creatures have special muscles and instincts that help them move effortlessly over rough terrain.

Now, these researchers are trying to figure out just what it is that allows cockroaches to go everywhere you don't want them to be.

"Their legs are arranged with a certain shape and with springs put in a certain place, so they don't have to use any brain power to do what they do," said Jonathan Hurst, an OSU robotics researcher.  "It's just the way their built."

John Schmitt, a mathematician, heads up the theoretical end of the research and recently had a paper on the subject published in the professional journal "Bioinspiration and Biomimetics." Scmitt said the term "bio-inspiration" means taking ideas from nature and coming up with practical applications.

In this case, a robot that moves gracefully in harsh places.

"You keep on seeing rovers getting stuck in the sand or on a rock," Schmitt said. "I think a legged robot would be able to deal with some of those challenges."

Schmitt and Hurst are currently working on a prototype.

They say it'll be years before this new generation of robots is put to use. But they're grateful to the cockroach for all it's teaching them about agility and movement.

"There's no way we would've figured this stuff out if we didn't have examples from biology, and if we didn't have something like the cockroach to experiment on and tease out these secrets," Hurst said.