Templates and anchors for antenna-based wall following in cockroaches and robots

Jusuk Lee, Simon N. Sponberg, Owen Y. Loh, Andrew G. Lamperski, Robert J. Full, Noah J. Cowan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

53 Scopus citations


The interplay between robotics and neuromechanics facilitates discoveries in both fields: nature provides roboticists with design ideas, while robotics research elucidates critical features that confer performance advantages to biological systems. Here, we explore a system particularly well suited to exploit the synergies between biology and robotics: high-speed antenna-based wall following of the American cockroach (Periplaneta americana). Our approach integrates mathematical and hardware modeling with behavioral and neurophysiological experiments. Specifically, we corroborate a prediction from a previously reported wall-following template - the simplest model that captures a behavior - that a cockroach antenna-based controller requires the rate of approach to a wall in addition to distance, e.g., in the form of a proportional-derivative (PD) controller. Neurophysiological experiments reveal that important features of the wall-following controller emerge at the earliest stages of sensory processing, namely in the antennal nerve. Furthermore, we embed the template in a robotic platform outfitted with a bio-inspired antenna. Using this system, we successfully test specific PD gains (up to a scale) fitted to the cockroach behavioral data in a "real-world" setting, lending further credence to the surprisingly simple notion that a cockroach might implement a PD controller for wall following. Finally, we embed the template in a simulated lateral-leg-spring (LLS) model using the center of pressure as the control input. Importantly, the same PD gains fitted to cockroach behavior also stabilize wall following for the LLS model.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)130-143
Number of pages14
JournalIEEE Transactions on Robotics
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1 2008


  • Bio-inspiration
  • Biological system modeling
  • Biomimicry
  • Insect antenna
  • Legged locomotion
  • Wall following

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