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Running Robots  (Source: OSU)
Roaches may lead to better robots

Insects like roaches are a nuisance to most of us and we do all we can to eliminate them from our environment. Scientists look at roaches with a different eye – some see the insects as engineering marvels and are striving to make robots that are able to move more like roaches.

Researchers at Oregon State University are looking to roaches for what they call "bioinspiration" to build the world's first legged robot that can run effortlessly over rough terrain. The scientists are studying how the bugs are able to use their legs to manage and expend energy and why those capabilities are so important for running stability.

OSU assistant professor of mechanical and industrial engineering John Schmitt said, "Humans can run, but frankly our capabilities are nothing compared to what insects and some other animals can do. Cockroaches are incredible. They can run fast, turn on a dime, move easily over rough terrain, and react to perturbations faster than a nerve impulse can travel."

The problem is that robots being built today can walk, but the researchers say that the robots absorb far too much energy and computing power to be particularly useful. Roaches on the other hand can run without really having to even think about what they are doing. The bugs are able to run using muscle action that is instinctual and doesn't require reflex control.

Schmitt said, "If we ever develop robots that can really run over rough ground, they can’t afford to use so much of their computing abilities and energy demand to accomplish it. A cockroach doesn’t think much about running, it just runs. And it only slows down about 20 percent when going over blocks that are three times higher than its hips. That’s just remarkable, and an indication that their stability has to do with how they are built, rather than how they react."

The roach isn't the only living creature that the researchers are studying. They are also looking at how the guinea hen can change the length and angle of its legs to adjust automatically to an unexpected ground surface change. The hen can react to an unexpected surface change of as much as 40%. The researchers say that is the human equivalent of stepping in a 16-inch deep hole running at full speed and not missing a beat.

The researchers have developed a computer model that is able to react to changes in ground surface almost as fast as the guinea hen. The ultimate goal of the research is to construct robots that are capable of running over uneven terrain without using significant computing power. Eventually the research may lead to military robots that are more efficient and robots that can be used for other tasks like walking a catwalk.

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By Moishe on 12/29/2009 11:21:34 AM , Rating: 2
What robots need is fast reaction time, flexibility, and low power requirements. "Instinct" in a bug is probably analogous to "programming" in a robot.

It's cool to see robots that can do basic things, but nature is far more advanced than we realize. Even tiny autonomous roaches are way more advanced than we can produce.

RE: instinct...
By axias41 on 12/29/2009 11:35:11 AM , Rating: 4
Nature has several years of experience in more than we

RE: instinct...
By Moishe on 12/29/2009 11:40:57 AM , Rating: 2
Ohh yeah... just a few.

I think that nature's reasons for doing things are what drives the design though. Roaches live to eat and spawn. Their part in the 'circle of life' is a byproduct of their existence. If we create robots to sneak around and take pics, the design automatically requires some change. No longer is efficiency for existence the goal. The goal becomes efficiency for usefulness to a higher power. This isn't how nature works. Roaches don't waste time carrying cameras or decide to avoid a meal because they'd rather take a picture.

RE: instinct...
By Mitch101 on 12/29/2009 12:42:19 PM , Rating: 2
You cant say that for sure becuase no one makes a camera for roaches.

RE: instinct...
By ClownPuncher on 12/29/2009 3:41:29 PM , Rating: 2
Not yet!

RE: instinct...
By Moishe on 12/29/2009 3:47:50 PM , Rating: 2
If you could, you still couldn't control them. Good luck taking pics from some animal that hardly ever comes out where people are.

RE: instinct...
By jonmcc33 on 12/29/2009 2:06:42 PM , Rating: 2
Considering that roaches have been around since before the dinosaurs...I'd say they have a giant leap of experience over us.

RE: instinct...
By TSS on 12/29/2009 2:08:08 PM , Rating: 2
What robots need is a subconscience, along with muscle memory.

Programming a robot is like our conscience, everything that gets processed runs through your head. You have to think about everything you do, so does a robot.

I don't think about how i walk, i just walk. my muscles remember how from years and years of training. Robots think every single little coordinate possible when they walk, or they will fall down. If i fall down, my subconscience calculates everything i need to keep me upright, or in other words, the few vague steps i do to keep upright.

When i fall down, i don't think about how i'm going to try and stay upright. i'm thinking "OH CRAP GROUND PAIN NOOOOOO!"

bugs don't have a conscience, or atleast, not a very extended one. I'll bet no roach has ever thought about how he walks. "reacts faster then nerve signals can travel", well it's fairly obvious then that no nerve signal was used for that action. The muscle acted without the brain. Muscle memory.

Adding something like the PS3's cell's SPE per joint in the robot's body that could act on it's own besides doing whatever the "brain" tells it to do for advanced actions would be a large step forward. And if you think this is far fetched may i remind your that a simple roach is built out of billions of highly specialized cells.

Dont forget everything we do is the result of a whole bunch of cells acting together. And we have more then just braincells....

RE: instinct...
By Moishe on 12/29/2009 3:55:50 PM , Rating: 2
I think you're right. Kinda my point. It's more than just a faster CPU. There is this automatic stuff built in.

RE: instinct...
By Fritzr on 12/30/2009 4:41:51 PM , Rating: 2
Command structure hierarchy.
Get book->Find book/obtain book->next level of detail...
Brain handles high level commands, local ganglia handle low level actions.
Officer (decides mission to complete)->NCO(decides action to complete mission)->enlisted(executes action to complete mission)
For "instinctive" tasks, the enlisted has certain predefined instructions, the NCO has a certain freedom of action to initiate and execute tasks without orders from above, low level officers have limited freedom to create new missions.

Executive level officers set policy and decide what freedoms the lower level functions will have. This level is "consciousness"

In a robot the main processor will issue commands and localized processors will decide how to act. Localized processors will also have predefined responses to common circumstances. For instance the command "step" requires the local processor to find out where the surface is that will be stepped on (the Guinea Hen's leg length change & the roach's response to uneven surface)

muscle feedback
By William Gaatjes on 12/29/2009 11:58:42 AM , Rating: 2
Between the muscle fibers there are feedback fibers that function like a servo signal. They fire at a certain rate when the muscle is relaxed. when the muscle stretches, the firing rate increases. When the muscle gets shorter, the firing rate decreases.

There are also feedback tissues located in the connection between tendons and muscle fibers. The Golgi tendon organ. When there is to much strain on the tendon and the muscle fibers, the golgi organ will signal the central nervous system in the spinal cord to relax the muscle and as result to protect the muscle and the tendon.

It does not end there, In your joints you have fibers that give feedback over the position and angle of the joint. This signal is given by various stretch receptors in the joint that fire on after each other depending on the position of the joint. A fast movement of the joint means a fast firing rate.

This information is very important. Because all this feedback information is not present to us. We just think to move and the neurons in the brainstem and the spinalcord take care of everything. If i would device a robot , i would first start to build a leg with much feedback capabilities. And use separate microcontrollers for each leg. These mcu's can talk to each other to a similar form of a central nervous system. This way each leg has full control over it's own movement, The central system just tells it has to keep moving and it does the job, compensating for every deviation it encounters on it's own.
The central system relays information for global movement of all the legs to the legs and receives feedback, while each leg just worries about it's own movement.

RE: muscle feedback
By Moishe on 12/29/2009 4:17:10 PM , Rating: 2
So we're talking subsystems. Very cool.

By AstroGuardian on 12/30/2009 3:09:12 AM , Rating: 3
Why do they always mention the military purpose of robots? Do they plan to create a freakin' robot T800 army and destroy the world? What the hell is wrong with America? Well i hope they fail creating a robot...... MISERABLY!!!!

"Well, there may be a reason why they call them 'Mac' trucks! Windows machines will not be trucks." -- Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer
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