University of California, Berkeley, biologists discovered new behaviors in cockroaches further securing the insect's reputation as one of nature's top escape artists, able to skitter away and disappear from sight before any human can whack it.
"As we made the gap wider, they would end up on the underside of the ramp," Mongeau said. "To the naked eye, it wasn't clear what was happening, but when we filmed them with a high-speed camera and slowed it down, we were amazed to see that it was the cockroach's hind legs grabbing the surface that allowed it to swing around under the ledge."
The researchers discovered an identical behavior in geckos and lizards. It’s apparently so wide-spread because it's an effective way for them to get out of any harm.
If insects and geckos can do this, why not a robot? The researchers teamed up with roboticists at the university and attached Velcro to the rear legs of a cockroach-inspired robot called DASH (dynamic autonomous sprawled hexapod).
"All this must be put together into a complete package to understand what goes into these animals' extraordinary maneuverability," Full said.
Aside from helping scientists understand animal locomotion, these findings will go into making better robots.
"Today, some robots are good at running, some at climbing, but very few are good at both or transitioning from one behavior to the other," he said. "That's really the challenge now in robotics, to produce robots that can transition on complex surfaces and get into dangerous areas that first responders can't get into."
The researchers further found out that in addition to its lightning speed, quick maneuvers and ability to squeeze through the tiniest cracks, the cockroach also can flip under a ledge and disappear in the blink of an eye. It does this by grabbing the edge with grappling hook-like claws on its back legs and swinging like a pendulum 180 degrees to land firmly underneath, upside down.
"Cockroaches continue to surprise us," said Robert Full, a professor of integrative biology who 15 years ago discovered that when cockroaches run rapidly, they rear up on their two hind legs like bipedal humans. "They have fast relay systems that allow them to dart away quickly in response to light or motion at speeds up to 50 body lengths per second, which is equivalent to a couple hundred miles per hour, if you scale up to the size of humans. This makes them incredibly good at escaping predators."
The findings could lead to “highly mobile search-and-rescue robots that can assist us during natural and human-made disasters,” the team writes in the June 6 issue of PLoS ONE.