Katsaridaphobia, as everyone knows, is the extreme fear of cockroaches. And it probably won’t help those living with katsaridaphobia to know that cockroaches can pass through holes and cracks as narrow as 2,54 millimetres.

So now that you’re even more wary of the kitchen drain, it might help to know that researchers at the University of California, Berkley have modelled a robot on the physical abilities of the American cockroach. This could potentially aid in search-and-rescue operations in rubble resulting from natural disasters or explosions.

Tests found that cockroaches can withstand forces of up to 900 times their body weight without injury, and they have completely malleable exoskeletons. This exoskeleton is what gives them the ability to flatten themselves out to squeeze through crevices. But, even in this flattened position, cockroaches are able to move at incredible speed.

This physical trait has inspired the Compressible Robot with Articulated Mechanisms, also known as CRAM. The palm-sized robot palm-sized robot has a malleable shield to protect itself. It also splays its legs outward when it is squashed.

In the event of an earthquake, first responders need to know if an area of rubble is stable and safe. The challenge is, most robots can’t get into rubble,” said Robert Full, a professor of integrative biology at UC Berkeley. “But if there are lots of cracks and vents and conduits, you can imagine just throwing a swarm of these robots in to locate survivors and safe entry points for first responders.”

Although CRAM is only in prototype stage, Full says it shows the feasibility of soft robots with exoskeletons. Their finding have been published in an early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Watch the video above to see CRAM in action. Warning: this video is not for the phobic.

Source: UC Berkley