Even today's best robots are considered 'fragile' for real-world utilization. They break easily - sometimes simply colliding into an obstacle in their environment. Once damaged, robots are often limited to pre-specified compensatory behavior and therefore, unable to recover adequately for continuing operation. In order to avoid such failure, they need to be able to sense internal states and environmental conditions. In contrast, animals are remarkably robust - can anticipate uncertainties to avoid fatal damage, tolerate construction flaws and rapidly adapt to changing environmental situations.
Contributions from our group have involved understanding mechanisms of robustness during high-speed locomotion in cockroaches despite naturally occurring perturbations such as head-on collisions, body deformations and partial or complete amputations. More recently, we have been successful in integrating some of these principles of robustness of animal systems into robots at the scale of insects. We are currently working on expanding the capabilities of these robots by developing novel actuators, sensors and bioinspired appendage mechanisms.