Do the locomotion — insect-style
A new multimedia package on the Berkeley website is not for the squeamish

By Bonnie Azab Powell, Public Affairs


25 September 2002 | The Berkeley home page last week may have looked a little buggy to some visitors. The tiny cockroach wasn’t a programming problem, however, just the link to a new multimedia package about professor of integrative biology Robert Full’s work. “Unlocking the Secrets of Animal Locomotion” combines Flash animation, eight short videos, photographs ,and text to illustrate what we can learn from the ways creepy-crawlers move.

In Full’s PolyPEDAL Laboratory, multi-legged creatures get the kind of scrutiny usually reserved for Olympic athletes. Crabs run on tiny treadmills while machines record their metabolic rates, cockroaches carry miniature cannons to test their recovery from perturbation, and centipedes step gingerly across gelatin platforms that measure the force of each leg.

The lab boasts another unusual species: undergraduate students. The recipient of a Distinguished Teaching Award, a Chancellor’s Professorship, and a Goldman Professorship for teaching, Full is committed to teaching undergraduates and giving them the chance to do real research in his lab.

Full’s observations of crabs and cockroaches has inspired great advances in creating artificial muscles for humans as well as more stable, maneuverable legged robots. In the online multimedia package, visitors can watch short videos of Ariel, a robot that walks crablike through the waves; Rhex, which barrels like a beetle over any obstacle in its path; bouncy Sprawlita; and sticky Mecho-Gecko. Full hopes to send one of these robots on the next mission to Mars, a terrain where wheeled robots are at a disadvantage.

And, as they announced just a few weeks ago, Full and collaborators have produced the first synthetic gecko toe hair. Further research, it is hoped, will lead to the synthesis of a dry, self-cleaning adhesive that could revolutionize several industries.

To view the complete presentation, visit


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