Gerridae—you've probably seen these weird bugs gliding across the surface of the water when you're out swimming or fishing. These insects are commonly referred to as water striders, or more cleverly, Jesus bugs, for their ability to "walk on water". It's a pretty cool trick, but what could it do for science, right? Turns out, quite a bit.
Photo by felixtsao
Engineer Jie Zhao and his fellow researchers at China's Harbin Institute of Technology have created a tiny robot that can walk on water, just like the water strider. But this robot can do something its insect lookalike can't—it can also jump on water.
The robot is about six inches long and only weighs 11 grams, but that's over 1,000 times heavier than a typical water bug. What allows water striders to glide across the surface of the water is their long legs, which equally support their weight and distribute it across a larger surface area. The scientists used this knowledge to create computer simulations that studied the impact of the water on the insects' legs. These simulations led them to the conclusion that superhydrophobic materials would give this robot the ability to jump.
Its legs are carbon fiber and rest on supports made of nickel foam, which is water-repellant. This creates a layer of air in-between the legs and the water and keeps it from sinking. The two spring-loaded legs in the back propel the robot nearly six inches high, and each jump is about 14 inches long, over twice the length of the robot itself.
The researchers say it could be used as a water quality monitor or a spy, but I'm betting there are a lot of other applications they just haven't thought of yet.
What would you do with a tiny, water jumping robot?