The motion of the multi-legged VelociRoACH robot is a symphony of chaos. Pick it up and watch its tiny, half-circle-shaped legs scuttle about, you might think it wouldn’t get very far very fast. But this tiny bundle of circuits and plastic is tuned to harness its wiggle and wobble to stabilize itself. The little bots run fast enough to serve as aircraft carriers to robo-birds.
Above, UC Berkeley’s 32-gram VelociRoACH is reaching the blistering speed of 1.3 meters per second (2.9 miles per hour) calculated to lift the 13.2 gram “H2Bird,” a micro-aerial vehicle, off the ground. The demonstration goes beyond showing off adorable RC creatures — there is a real benefit in studying how robots could work together.
Why don’t we have commercially available flying cars? One of the reasons is that it’s hard to make machines that are really good at multiple jobs. If you want to drive fast you need a big, heavy engine, but if you also then want to fly you need to be light. That’s the compromise of engineering. The alternative is something like the VelociRoACH and H2Bird pairing: robot teams.
“Obviously, hauling the H2Bird around on its back is going to make VelociRoACH less efficient,” IEEE reports, “but it also improves stability, decreasing pitch and roll variances by up to 95 percent if H2Bird slowly flaps its wings (at 5 Hz) while VelociRoAch is running.” The H2Bird’s slow flapping before takeoff also effectively decreases the weight of the duo, increasing the roach’s running speed by 12 percent.
Still, there is a tradeoff. The roach’s quicker cousin, the X2-VelociRoACH, runs really fast without any encumbrances. Seriously, blink and you’ll miss it:
OK, 17.6 kilometers per hour (11 miles per hour) isn’t supercar speed, but it is the fastest robot for its size.
The versions of the VelociRoACH and the H2Bird aren’t yet autonomous, and the H2Bird can’t yet make a landing on its roach launcher, but those capabilities cant’ be far off. And just imagine the Big Dog version of this duo.
For more information on UC Berkeley’s robot team, check out the videos below.