Speed Reads

according to science

What galloping cockroaches can teach the robots of the future

As if giant cockroaches weren't freaky enough already, new research shows the insects have learned how to gallop. A study published in Frontiers in Zoology found that giant cockroaches can increase their velocity and lateral mobility when they run in a rolling gait, similar to a horse's gallop, rather than keeping three legs on the ground at all times in alternating steps, which is commonly referred to as the "tripod gait." While this new revelation is perhaps slightly horrifying for anyone suffering from insectophobia, Tom Weihmann, a professor at the University of Cologne in Germany and a coauthor on the study, says it may actually help robots learn to run more effectively.

Scientists concluded long ago that everyone's least favorite insect has a limited capacity for elastic energy storage in their legs. In layman's terms, their legs aren't very flexible, and most cockroaches don't have the bounce capacity of LeBron James (phew). But somehow, cockroaches figured out that if they gallop sequentially with six legs and keep their legs from coming too far off of the ground, they get a lot faster and lot more agile. The study notes that the high-speed gallop "has not been described before for terrestrial arthropods."

But why are cockroaches galloping in the first place? Researchers say they're sometimes making "escape runs," and other times they gallop slowly on slippery surfaces to maintain stability. Weihmann believes our robots could learn a thing or two from the bug's unique running style. "Adapting the coordination patterns of robot legs to those of fast-running cockroaches can help the robot use energy more efficiently and hence increase its endurance in an inhospitable environment," he says.

Read the entire study at Frontiers in Zoology.