The Evolving Robot Cockroach Will Outlive Us All

Engineers and roboticists love las cucarachas

A cockroach may or may not actually be able to survive a nuclear blast, but these bugs have achieved a sort of mechanical immortality as scuttling robot blueprints. A roach, for its size, is an amazing speedster — clocked at 3.4 mph, equivalent to a human sprinting over 200 mph - and that efficiency, coupled with the replicable carapace, tends to intrigue engineers. Robot creators from MIT to Stanford have been inspired by the pest's “mechanically intelligent” legs and easy disposition. No wonder, then, that roboroaches are already showing up at America's biggest robot conference.

The latest in this roachy menagerie comes to us from the University of California, Berkeley. Meet the VelociRoACH, which is a launching platform for the H2Bird ornithopter and proof positive of the modular futures of droids.

Roboticists aren’t just mimicking roaches — they’re incorporating them, too. Perhaps the first widely available DIY cyborg kit involves sticking a microprocessor into a roach. The goal, RoboRoach parent company Backyard Brains says, isn’t to inspire future generations of techno-Frankensteins or piss off PETA, but to offer a practical introduction to neuroscience and electronics. Moreover, as North Carolina State University researchers recently demonstrated, if you were to equip these cybugs with microphones, you’d end up with highly-mobile micromachines that could help find people in distress after disasters.