The team studied how the animal can move so well. Members built a lab model using laser cutters to cut and assemble paper into pieces that mimic blades of grass. They also outfitted "veloci-roach" with a saucer-shaped back plate so it could turn on its side and use its legs to squeeze through spaces.
"Body shape is important here to determine locomotive performance," Li said. "Just like the streamlined shape of an animal flying or swimming in fluid. We call it terradynamic streamlining, as opposed to aerodynamic steamlining."
Mark Cutkosky, professor of mechanical engineering at Stanford University and an expert in small bio-inspired robots, likes this project.
"We have had small running robots for a number of years. However, while they can go quite fast on smooth surfaces, they perform poorly in comparison to small animals in rough or cluttered terrain," Cutkosky said.
"Unlike mice, cockroaches don't have advanced brains and, as the authors note, they rely substantially on passive mechanisms to ensure they can negotiate cluttered terrain without slowing down. So they are a good model for the current generation of small robots with limited computing power," he said.
The next phase, Li said, is taking the crawling roach-bot out into the real world.