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New Israeli robot scurries like a cockroach, runs like a lizard – swims, too

Created by lab of David Zarrouk of Ben-Gurion University, palm-sized amphibious AmphiSTAR to be used for agriculture and search and rescue

Shoshanna Solomon is The Times of Israel's Startups and Business reporter

The AmphiSTAR developed by the lab of David Zarrouk at Ben-Gurion University mimics the movements of cockroaches and lizards and is able to swim, run on top of water, and crawl on challenging terrain (Courtesy)
The AmphiSTAR developed by the lab of David Zarrouk at Ben-Gurion University mimics the movements of cockroaches and lizards and is able to swim, run on top of water, and crawl on challenging terrain (Courtesy)

Researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) studied the movements of cockroaches and lizards to create a new palm-sized high-speed amphibious robot that is able to swim, run on water, and crawl on challenging terrain.

The robot is intended to be used for agricultural, search and rescue, and excavation purposes, where both crawling and swimming are required, David Zarrouk, the director of the Bioinspired and Medical Robotics Laboratory in BGU’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, said in a statement. The lab studies animal movements for inspiration for the robots it develops.

The mechanical design of the robot, called the AmphiSTAR, and its control system were presented virtually last week at the International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems (IROS) by Zarrouk and graduate student Avi Cohen.

The movement of the robot very much resembles that of cockroaches as they scurry across terrain — managing to continue to run even in a puddle of water 20 centimeters (eight inches) deep, a video presented by the researchers shows. It can also swim at a slow speed and run over water.

“The AmphiSTAR uses a sprawling mechanism inspired by cockroaches, and it is designed to run on water at high speeds like the basilisk lizard,” says Zarrouk. “We envision that AmphiSTAR can be used for agricultural, search and rescue and excavation applications, where both crawling and swimming are required.”

The palm-size AmphiSTAR, part of the family of STAR robots developed at the lab, is a wheeled robot fitted with four propellers underneath, whose axes can be tilted using a sprawl mechanism. The propellers act as wheels over ground and as fins to propel the robot over water. Two air tanks enable it to float and transition smoothly between high speeds, when hovering on water, to lower speeds when swimming, and from crawling to swimming and vice versa, the university said in a statement.

The experimental robot can crawl over gravel, grass and concrete and can attain speeds of 3.6 meters per second (3.3 mph), BGU said in a statement.

“Our future research will focus on the scalability of the robot and on underwater swimming,” Zarrouk says.

Zarrouk’s team of researchers have developed other robots, including a tiny ingestible robot that may one day have the capacity to slither its way through the small intestine; a robotic arm for agricultural or space purposes; and a hybrid robot that can both fly and drive.

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