Robotic Insects Could Help In Search, Rescue Efforts

Photo: Paul Birkmeyer, the graduate student who designed the robots, shows his creation. Researchers are trying to add cameras and detectors that can locate people's breath.
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Paul Birkmeyer, the graduate student who designed the robots, shows his creation. Researchers are trying to add cameras and detectors that can locate people's breath.

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DASH: Resilient High-Speed 16-gram Hexapedal Robot

DASH (Dynamic Autonomous Sprawled Hexapod) is a resilient high-speed 16-gram hexapedal robot. Developed by P. Birkmeyer & R.S. Fearing, Biomimetic Millisystems Laboratory, University of California, Berkeley. Video presented at IEEE IROS 2009. Read more robot news at

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While search and rescue teams were being deployed in the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake, UC Berkeley researchers were busy developing new technologies to assist in the search and rescue process.

The researchers developed a robot modeled after a cockroach that can be sent into places or situations that were too dangerous or spaces too small for people, such as collapsed buildings in the wake of an earthquake.

"The goal of the project is to develop robots that are very small and lightweight, and durable and high performance," said Ronald Fearing, professor of electrical engineering and computer sciences and one of the researchers on the project.

Although the project is still in the initial stages, Fearing said the robots could be extremely helpful to search and rescue teams in the future.

Paul Birkmeyer, a graduate student researcher in the department of electrical engineering and computer sciences and creator of the robot, said the inspiration for the robot came from the aftermath of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake and the lack of a safe method to rescue people from collapsed structures.

Birkmeyer said the current robots were built out of inexpensive material and could be manufactured for as little as one dollar per robot.

"It's also very light because of the manufacturing process-that helps it go fast," Birkmeyer said. "It can climb over obstacles as tall as itself; it can also survive falls over arbitrarily tall buildings."

He added that researchers in his lab were working on technological additions to the robot, such as carbon dioxide detectors that can sense people's breath and cell phone-sized cameras.

Wireless communication is another future possibility that would allow robots to communicate with rescue teams and with each other, Fearing said.

Fearing said the robot was modeled after a cockroach because animals such as cockroaches are much more efficient and capable at locomotion than robots.

He added that the researchers still faced challenges, particularly in adapting the robot to real-world situations, as current tests only involve a smooth laboratory floor.

"One of the challenges is how do we take this robot technology and make it work in a much more challenging environment," Fearing said.

John Schmitt, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Oregon State University, said the robot may need some further engineering in the future.

"If there's any room for improvement, it would be interesting to see how that runs over rough terrain," he said.

Birkmeyer said researchers were working on developing ways in which the robot would be able to climb large obstacles.

"It's been a continuously evolving design," he said. "It's on the order of a 100 different designs I have created, since it doesn't take long to build them or very much money."


Mihir Zaveri is the assistant university news editor. Contact him at [email protected]

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