Small robots with smart bodies can safely bump into obstacles

Prof. Ron Fearing's team have modified a palm-size robot with a soft, roach-like exoskeleton and six legs, called the Dynamic Autonomous Sprawled Hexapod (DASH), to use the momentum of a head-on crash to tip itself upward to climb a wall.  Kaushik Jayaram (Ph.D. Robotics/Biology '14, advisor: Robert Full) discovered how cockroaches use the energy from collisions to propel themselves up and over obstacles.  “Their bodies are doing the computing, not their brains or complex sensors,” explains Jayaram. DASH can now scurry up an incline, if equipped with gecko toes – sticky pads that Full and Fearing has also investigated and adapted for robots – they may one day become as nimble as a cockroach. The work “shows that small robots can be built with simple, robust, smart bodies to safely bump into obstacles instead of using complex and expensive sensing and control systems," says Full.