While science fiction envisions a future of robots that run just like humans, the reality is that they may actually cruise along like cockroaches. Or even guinea hens.
That's because they way we walk is much less efficient for robots in terms of computing power and energy than other creatures. In the case of a cockroach, mobility is based more on instinct than reflex. As LiveScience.com points out, when a roach comes across bricks that are three times as high as its hip, it only slows down by 20 percent.
"Being able to recover the original running stride in the presence of rough terrain is important," mechanical engineer John Schmitt of Oregon State University told LiveScience. He added that a cockroach-inspired robot could run on autopilot in most cases, and would only have to stop and think about its next move when it encountered a large disturbance or obstacle.
In addition to cockroaches, Schmitt has been inspired by the guinea hen, whose legs act like springs when encountering a sudden change in the surface. If a human performed like a guinea hen, he could run at full speed right into a 16-inch-deep hole and barely miss a beat, he said.
Future bots that take advantage of these characteristics would most likely be used in assisting law enforcement (potentially for surveillance) or even space exploration on other planets with rough terrain.