June 7, 2012 at 3:57 PM ET
Ever pulled your hand back to swat a cockroach on the kitchen table only to find the insect has vanished before your eyes? It turns out it may have flipped over the ledge and is now clinging to the underside, according to researchers who’ve given the same ability to an insect-like robot.
This newly identified behavior of cockroaches was discovered as researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, were studying how the insects use their antennae to sense and cross gaps.
To figure out what was happening, the team filmed the behavior with a high-speed camera then played it back in super slow mo.
“We were amazed to see it was the cockroach’s hind legs grabbing the surface that allowed it to swing under the ledge,” he said.
The researchers discovered a similar behavior in geckos and lizards. It’s apparently so wide-spread because it's an effective way for little critters to get out of harm’s way.
If insects and geckos can do this, why not a robot? The researchers teamed up with roboticists at the university and attached Velcro to the rear legs of a cockroach-inspired robot called DASH (dynamic autonomous sprawled hexapod).
It worked. Proof is in the video below.
The findings could lead to “highly mobile search-and-rescue robots that can assist us during natural and human-made disasters,” the team writes in the June 6 issue of PLoS ONE.
Now, aren’t you glad cockroaches are so nimble that we’re compelled to figure out how they escape our swatters?
John Roach is a contributing writer for msnbc.com. To learn more about him, check out his website and follow him on Twitter. For more of our Future of Technology series, watch the featured video below.