Question Sheet: Roboroach and Company | Science News for Students

Question Sheet: Roboroach and Company

Dec 8, 2011 — 5:29 pm EST

Before reading:

  1. Do robots have to look like people? What else can robots look like? 
  2. Why would scientists study animals to learn how to build a better robot?

During reading:

  1. What makes cockroaches interesting to engineers who design robots? 
  2. Describe Cowan's cockroach-inspired antennas. 
  3. In what ways does Wilbur resemble a lobster? In what ways is it unlike a lobster? 
  4. What uses might a "robolobster" have? 
  5. Why might a slipper lobster be a good model for how a robot could grasp and hold things? 
  6. How might animal-inspired robots be helpful to firefighters someday?

After reading:

  1. If you were designing a robot, what animal other than a cockroach or a lobster might you study? Explain why. For some examples, see,1294,61808,00.html(Wired). 
  2. Compare the advantages of a robot inspired by a lobster as opposed to one inspired by a cockroach. Which one would be of more use in fighting fires? Why? 
  3. What uses would a robot with a heightened sense of smell have? 
  4. Go outside and watch a bug crawl around. Work out how you might design a robot that moves in a similar way. 
  5. Where are robots used today? Come up with two examples of places where robots are used. See Museum of Innovation). 
  6. In cartoons, movies, and TV shows, robots often look like people. What are some of the disadvantages of trying to make robots look and act like people? 
  7. Why would you want to create a robot that's driven by a cockroach? See (Garnet Hertz).


Select a movie, TV show, or book that features a robot. Is the robot a "good" or a "bad" character? What is the writer trying to say about the possible social impact of robots? For a history of robots and examples from movies, books, and TV shows, see


  1. Write a short story about a future in which people use robots inspired by cockroaches. Use your story to explain how and why these particular robots are in use. Describe what they look like. How has their presence changed some aspect of daily life? What sorts of problems could such robots present? 
  2. Write a business letter to one of the scientists mentioned in the article. Explain why you are interested in his robotics research. Come up with three questions about his research that you would like to have answered.


A toy robot has a three-digit electronic display. The only digits it can display are 1, 2, and 3. How many different numbers can this robot display?