the six-million dollar cockroach

Happy New Year, everyone 🙂

I was idly looking around for something to write about (definitely in holiday mood at the moment!) & came across a couple of websites that you might enjoy. And they’re even educational…

This first one’s fascinating (warning: if you’re not into cockroaches, you might disagree with me on that):  It’s a video about a physics/engineering project. The student’s designed a 3-wheeled robot that’s steered – wait for it – by a cockroach. No, truly. But not an ordinary cockroach.

It’s a Madagascan hissing cockroach, & it steers the robot by walking around on a glorified computer mouse trackball. The animal’s movements are translated into movements by the robot. And the designers know a bit about roach behaviour: that they avoid light, for example. There’s a set of sensors in the front of the robot, & when these detect an object (whether it’s a bit of furniture or a human) a few feet ahead, this triggers one of a panel of lights to light up. The idea is that the cockroach will try to turn away from the light & this will in turn cause the robot to veer away from the obstacle. (These cockroaches are huge – & people apparently keep them as pets. We don’t have them in New Zealand, otherwise I’d be quite interested in having some myself.)

And the second one’s even more physics-y. It’s about non-Newtonian fluids – liquids that don’t act as they should. In this case, it’s a large tank filled with a mix of cornflour & water. (Has to be cornflour, it wouldn’t work with ordinary flour. I rather think you’d get glue instead.) I remember doing this on a very small scale when my kids were younger. Anyway, if you get the consistency of the gloop right you can literally walk on water. The key thing is to keep moving!

Isn’t science wonderful?


3 thoughts on “the six-million dollar cockroach”

  • How big is one of those hissing cockroaches compared to a giant weta? I can recall being in cheap rooms in India where the cockroaches would come once you switched off the light. I couldn’t see them, but I could hear them alright.
    I looked at the last link. Hilarious. Maybe that’s how a certain famous religious figure pulled his little stunt off? Just kidding… (You need to remove the space before the ‘www’ in this URL, by the way.)

  • Alison Campbell says:

    I think they’re about the same size as the really big giant weta (Hemideina deinacrida, if I remember rightly). I used to have a great time taking a couple of giant weta out to visit schoolkids, when I was at Massey (PN). The kindy kids couldn’t get enough of them, the primary kids were a bit unsure, & the secondary school students would hang back by the door. Mind you, you could see where some of them were getting it from. There was one mum at one of the visits who was carrying on something dreadful – ooh, yuck, ooh that’s awful, don’t touch it Johnny!
    (& thanks for the heads-up about the link, all fixed now 🙂 )

  • It says on the National Geographic page that the cockroaches are up to 22.7g – that’s about as big as a large Mahoenui giant weta, but not as big as the biggest weta, Deinacrida heteracantha, which can weigh up to 70g (in the case of one fully gravid female). Still quite big enough for a cockroach!

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