Engineers at the University of California, Berkeley have developed an insect-inspired robot that is capable of traversing rough terrain, swerving, pivoting and avoiding unexpected obstacles.

University of California, Berkeley engineers modified a previously designed cockroach-like robot — which is composed of a thin, layered piezoelectric material called polyvinylidene fluoride (PVDF) that expands or contracts when an electric voltage is applied — using electrostatic adhesion.

 Source: University of California, Berkeley, Jiaming Liang and Liwei Lin Source: University of California, Berkeley, Jiaming Liang and Liwei Lin

The modified robot now features two electrostatic footpads that respond to the application of a voltage. When a voltage is applied to the electrostatic footpads, the electrostatic force between the footpad and surface is increased, thereby causing the footpad to firmly adhere to the surface, consequently manipulating the remainder of the robot body to rotate around the foot.

According to the developers, the addition of the footpads enables operators to have greater control over the robot’s trajectory and they believe that the enhanced robot could be used for search and rescue missions as well as for gas leak detection applications.

To see how the robot maneuvers through a maze built of Legos, watch the accompanying video that appears courtesy of University of California, Berkeley. The insect-like robot is also detailed in the journal Science Robotics.

To contact the author of this article, email