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Robot mimics water striders’ jumping abilities

30 July 2012

The first bio-inspired micro-robot capable of not just walking on water like the water strider – but continuously jumping up and down like a real water strider, is now a reality.

Photo courtesy of the American Chemical Society
Photo courtesy of the American Chemical Society

Researchers have made a number of advances toward tiny robots that can walk on water. Such robots could skim across lakes and other bodies of water to monitor water quality or act as tiny spies. However, even the most advanced designs – including one from the research team last year – can only walk on water.

Real water striders actually leap. Making a jumping robot is difficult because the downward force needed to propel it into the air usually pushes the legs through the water’s surface. The group looked for novel mechanisms and materials to build a true water-striding robot.

Using porous, super water-repellant nickel foam to fabricate the three supporting and two jumping legs, the group made a robot that could leap more than 140mm, despite weighing as much as 1,100 water striders. In experiments, the robot could jump nearly 355mm forward – more than twice its own length – leaving the water at about 1.6m/s. The authors report that the ability to leap will make the bio-inspired microrobot more agile and better able to avoid obstacles it encounters on the water’s surface.

The development is reported in the American Chemical Society's Applied Materials & Interfaces.

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