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Robotic bird takes flight from back of robot roach

The cost of travel for both robots was cheaper when they worked together, researchers said.

By Brooks Hays
Robotic bird takes flight from back of robot roach
A robotic bird takes off from the back of a robot roach. Photo by UC-Berkeley/Biomimetic Millisystems Lab

BERKELEY, Calif., May 26 (UPI) -- A unique partnership between a robot bird and robot roach proves the sum is greater than its parts. In a recent demonstration, a land-based robot roach helped launch a flying robotic bird.

Engineers at the University of California, Berkeley were able to use the roach -- a hexapedal robot called VelociRoACH -- as a sort of aircraft carrier for the so-called ornithopter micro-aerial vehicle, named H2Bird.

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As Evan Ackerman, a science writer for IEEE Spectrum, explained in a recent post: Tag-teaming two robots with different skill sets is often a smart problem-solving strategy.

"Designing one robot that can walk and fly tends to be both complicated and inefficient, which is why hetergeneous robot teams are often more appealing," he wrote.

In this case, it would seem the bird benefited most from the partnership. But further analysis by scientists at Berkeley proved the relationship was more symbiotic.

The extra weight provided by the bird actually stabilized the robotic roach, diminishing the amount of pitch and roll experienced as it raced along the ground. When the bird slowly flaps its wings in the run-up to takeoff, the ornithopter's weight is slightly reduced, allowing the roach to boost its speed by 12 percent.

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In other words, the transportation efficiency is improved for both robots when working together.

"In situations such as these, cooperative locomotion would be more efficient than independent locomotion," researchers wrote in a recent paper describing the robotic team.

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