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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Cockroach, Robot, Astronaut

Air Date: Week of April 8, 2011

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Cockroaches have long been models for robots- their structure enhances both speed and stability. Now, researchers designing robots for outer space exploration are looking to the insect’s nervous system for inspiration. Wynn Tucker reports.

Transcript

GELLERMAN: Coming up - we get close and personal with Greenland’s glaciers.
But, first, here’s Wynn Tucker with this Note on Emerging Science.

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TUCKER: Cockroaches move with lightning speed and are masters of agility. Now scientists at Tel Aviv University are looking to the pesky insects to build robots for space exploration. Cockroaches keep three of their six legs on the ground when they walk to maximize stability. They’re also known for moving quickly on all kinds of terrain.

Robots have been built before that emulate the insect’s structure, but now researchers are focusing on the nervous system of the cockroach to find out more about its movement. The scientists want to know how sensory input from the environment affects the insect's walking patterns. So when a cockroach meets a bump in the road, what changes in its brain as it senses the obstacle, reacts, and moves on. This research will be used to develop robots that can adjust to the rugged surface of an asteroid, the Moon, or Mars.

And cockroaches aren’t the only insects whose inner workings are being used as a model for robotic designs. Scientists are also examining how locusts manage their energy, as the tiny insects are incredibly efficient fliers. So next time you see an insect scurrying around your cupboard, you might think twice before squishing it - it could be the model for the next Mars Rover. That’s this week’s Note on Emerging Science, I’m Wynn Tucker.

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