A university has developed a swarm of robots that can be used to aid first responders in case of emergency, filtering through cracks in concrete and other rubble to find survivors.

The tiny cockroach-sized VelociRoACH robots can also help each other climb over uneven surfaces to find those most in need of help from medical or rescue teams. In fact, the report explains how these robots can use each other to climb up walls and surfaces higher than their length, despite having tiny legs, using the power of collaboration.

“In the event of an earthquake, first responders need to know if an area of rubble is stable and safe, but the challenge is that most robots can’t get into the rubble,” said Robert Full, who has helped develop the robots.

“But if there are lots of cracks and vents and conduits, you can imagine just throwing a swarm of these robots in to locate survivors and safe entry points for first responders.”

Additionally, the robots can withstand forces up to 900 times their own bodyweight, can scuttle along at super-fast speeds when they need to and can fit into gaps a tenth of an inch wide to make them even more useful in dangerous conditions.

“This is only a prototype, but it shows the feasibility of a new direction using what we think are the most effective models for soft robots, that is, animals with exoskeletons,” Full added.

“Insects are the most successful animals on earth. Because they intrude nearly everywhere, we should look to them for inspiration as to how to make a robot that can do the same.”

Although there aren’t yet plans to commercialise the robots, there’s plenty of opportunity for these critters to be released into the wild, whether to help first responders as they were designed to do, or to simply become the next toy craze.