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

62 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 2008

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Manuscript received February 14, 2007; revised October 2, 2007. This paper was recommended for publication by Associate Editor P. Dario and Editor F. Park upon evaluation of the reviewers’ comments. This work was supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant 0543985. The work of S. N. Sponberg was supported by a Fannie and John Hertz Foundation Graduate Fellowship. The work of O. Y. Loh was supported by a John Hopkins University Provost’s Undergraduate Research Award. This paper was presented in part at the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology (SICB), San Diego, CA, January 4–8, 2005, in part at the SICB, Orlando, FL, January 4–8, 2006, in part at the IEEE Conference on Robotics and Automation, Barcelona, Spain, April 18–22, 2005, in part at the First Ruperto Carola Symposium on Fast Motions in Biomechanics and Robotics: Optimization and Feedback Control, Heidelberg, Germany, September 7–9, 2005, and in part at the IEEE International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems, San Diego, CA, October 28–November 2, 2007.


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


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