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Russian scientists create cockroach spy robot

Fri 25 Sep 2015

A team of scientists at the Kaliningrad-based Immanuel Kant Baltic Federal University has unveiled [Russian] the smallest cockroach robot ever which will be tasked with hunting out victims trapped under debris.

The engineers were asked to develop a bot that looked like a cockroach, mimicked the insect’s movement and was the same size. Project lead Aleksey Belousov explained that the most difficult part was finding a balance between these three requirements.

“Berkeley University has been working on their cockroach for the past four years, but they didn’t have to make it look like an insect, so it’s faster than ours. But it can’t turn at speed and it doesn’t look like a real cockroach at all. Whereas we were specifically told to create a cockroach robot on time and on budget,” he explained.

cockroach-pennyThe scientists initially wanted to model their prototype on the Central American giant cave cockroach, Blaberus giganteus, but couldn’t get hold of the cucaracha. The smaller species, the death’s head cockroach, Blaberus craniifer, was chosen instead.

“We had to develop many things from scratch. For example, there’s a company in Austria that produces gearing for legs, but a unit for one robot would have cost us nearly $9,000 while our entire budget is $22,500,” said Danil Borchevkin, the university’s lead engineer.

The robot measures 10cm in length, and can move at up to 30cm/second –a third of the speed of an actual cockroach. The device is fitted with light sensors, as well as contact and non-contact probes which allows it to move around without bumping into any obstacles.

For now, the robot can only operate autonomously for 20 minutes, but the team hopes to increase this time by December. By the end of the year, the robotic creature will also feature its own navigation system to allow for programmed routes.

The researchers are this week working on a camo version for use by the Russian military. The national army has already expressed interest in the bot, attracted by its ability to carry up to 10g – a potential option for carrying portable cameras into enclosed areas and tight spaces.


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