In an unlikely pairing, a robotic cockroach and robotic bird have teamed up to navigate disaster areas and provide emergency services using a combination of engineering and biomimicry.
The robots, VelociRoACH and H2Bird, were designed by a team of roboticists at the University of California, Berkeley, to combine the best characteristics of their living, breathing counterparts – agility and flight.
Acting like an aircraft carrier, VelociRoACH provides the 3 miles per hour speed that H2Bird, which cannot launch itself from a standstill, needs to take flight. The roboroach scuttles on C-shaped legs as the robobird begins flapping its wings, detaching and launching into the air when the roboroach has reached the necessary speed.
Pairing these robots together also makes up for each robot’s individual weaknesses and allow them to operate more efficiently than they would separately.
"While legged robots are great for uneven terrain, they have difficulty traversing tall obstacles," the team wrote in a paper describing their invention. "A flying millirobot has the ability to overcome tall obstacles and flapping-winged robots can have energy advantages over rotary and fixed wing fliers when it comes to mixedmodal flight [gliding, forward flight]."
The UC Berkeley team has been working on its roboroach for more than a decade. In 2004 the team introduced its first model RHex and in 2011 it added wings and introduced the world to DASH. However, DASH could not reach fast enough speeds to execute an aerial launch.
“Designing one robot that can walk and fly tends to be both complicated and inefficient, which is why hetergeneous robot teams are often more appealing,” Evan Ackerman wrote for IEEE Spectrum. “Instead of trying to cram every capability into one robot, you just use several different robots with different specializations and find some way of getting them to work together.”
With the options of flight or ground travel, the researchers believe the robotic pair will have applications for medical and emergency services. The team plans to conduct further studies to determine the best launch conditions so that VelociRoACH and H2Bird can operate entirely autonomously.