July 29, 2012
Leap Of Faith: Water Strider Inspires Jumping Microrobot
redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online
Researchers report in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces that they have developed the very first bio-inspired microrobot that completely mimics a real water strider. Not only can this tiny device walk on water, but it can also jump up and down continuously just like the water strider. The jumping ability allows the robot to avoid obstacles on reconnaissance or other missions.Led by Qinmin Pan, the researchers explain in their report that there have been a number of advancements in tiny robots with the ability to walk on water, such as being able to skim across lakes and other bodies of water to monitor water quality or act as tiny spies. However, even with these advancements, the microrobots have thus far only been able to walk on water, whereas real striders actually leap.
According to the researchers, "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."
To help solve this problem, Pan's team went in search of new mechanisms and materials to create a real water-striding robot.
Their solution was to use porous, super water-repellant nickel foam to fabricate the three supporting and two jumping legs. This allowed their robot the capability to leap more than 5.5 inches, despite weighing as much as 1,100 water striders. The robot was able to jump nearly 14 inches forward — more than twice its own length — leaving the water at about 3.6 miles per hour. This ability will eventually help to make the bio-inspired microrobot more agile and better able to avoid obstacles it encounters on the water's surface.
Funding for the project was provided by the State Key Laboratory of Robotics and System of Harbin Institute of Technology and the National Natural Science Foundation of China.