music; ambience laboratory with mini-treadmill
JM: Humans and cockroaches have a lot in common. Roaches like our living spaces; they enjoy the same foods we eat; and they even run like we do. I’m Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet.
BF: This is the death head cockroach. It’s called that because it has big, black spot on its head. It’s a very large cockroach, and it’s the animal that we use to study movement. It turns out that when we measure how they run that they move just like we do.
JM: As professor of integrative biology at UC Berkley, Bob Full uses a miniature treadmill to study animal locomotion, and his discoveries are informing more intelligent robotic designs.
BF: The difference is that they have three legs on the ground at once, of their six legs, kind of like a stool, and those three legs add up to one of your legs when you’re running. And when you look at how they move on the ground and how you do it, it’s all the same, kind of like a body sitting on top of a springy thing bouncing along. And then, we had that idea of how you move, we then talked to the engineers and said, “this would be a great way to build a robot.” So, they took what we’ve learned from nature and built incredibly wonderful, very rapid running, fast legged robots.
JM: It’s not only a model for speed; roach movement is also remarkably stable.
BF: Those front and hind legs on one side move the same way as the middle leg on the other side. And so, they actually run along bouncing like a stool. So, they move the same way, but they have a much more stable base.
JM: Bob Full is one of the participants in this year’s Kids’ Science Challenge, our free nationwide competition for 3rd to 6th graders, made possible by the National Science Foundation. Can you think up a bio-inspired design? Check out kidsciencechallenge.com. I’m Jim Metzner.