A cockroach could save your life. A robo-roach, that is.

The CRAM robot from researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, mimics a real roach's ability to squish down and squeeze through tiny cracks. That ability could make the robot ideal for scurrying through the rubble in disaster zones, looking for survivors.

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When Kaushik Jayaram and his colleagues studied the American cockroach (Periplaneta americana), they were amazed at the insect's ability to run quickly through incredibly narrow spaces.

“They're about half an inch tall when they run freely, but can squish their bodies to one-tenth of an inch — the height of two stacked pennies," Jayaram said in a press release.

Using a high-speed camera, the scientists were able to film roaches dashing through narrow slits. The video showed that when the insects flattened their bodies, they no longer used their feet to run, but instead relied on the hair-like sensory spines on their legs to push against the floor and propel them forward.

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Other experiments showed that the roaches were able to withstand compression 900 times their body weight without any injury at all. That might explain why stepping on one may not kill it.

Tom Libby, Kaushik Jayaram and Pauline Jennings / courtesy of PolyPEDAL Lab UC Berkeley

With the roach as inspiration, Jayaram designed a palm-sized robot that's able to splay its leg when compressed. It also has a smooth, tough, and pliable shell that allows the robot to squish down to half its height.

Jayaram, who recently obtained his Ph.D. from UC Berkeley and is now a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University, called the robot CRAM, for compressible robot with articulated mechanisms.

The research results were published this week in the journal PNAS.

See the American cockroach and CRAM in action below.