Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Robot That Walks On Water

I don't talk about religion on Science Decoded (with one exception) the way that I don't talk about politics (with one exception). So all Jesus walking on water references will be excluded from this post. Sorry if that disappoints. But, I am going to talk about a robot that walks on water, and that alone is pretty cool.

Credit: The American Chemical Society.
Researchers from the State Key Laboratory of Robotics and System, and the Harbin Institute of Technology in China, writing in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces, have developed a microbot that is able to walk across water's surface. The robot was designed to mimic the capabilities of water-striding insects like mosquitoes that can support themselves on water's delicate surface.

The Chinese microbot is approximately six inches long and has 10 wire legs and 2 moveable oar-like legs. It is propelled by two small motors that help it to maneuver like a water striding insect. What makes the robot so much more impressive than what the insects do is that at 3.88 grams it weighs about as much as 390 water strider bugs. Despite its weight it is still able to walk, stand and turn on water's surface without sinking.

So what is the trick to walking on water? My favorite: Math. (Sarcasm intended). While I still might be a bit intimidated by math, I definitely appreciate the amazing ways that nature is really just math and vice versa. The microbot's legs are able to support it the way a water strider's legs can support it based on the radius and contact angle of the legs with the water's surface.

But the real question here is: aside from the fact that a robot that walks on water is just cool, why does it matter? According to the researchers this type of technology could be useful for developing tools for monitoring water pollution or water quality surveillance. Personally, I'm envisioning little robot spies stealthily sneaking across bodies of water, but that is something the researchers didn't speculate on.

It amazes me everyday the kind of advances we've made in robotics, as we automate the world around us I can't help but borrow the tagline from my friend Cassi's blog: We Live In The Future.

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