A new robot has been made of ultralight carbon-fiber that can stand or slowly walk on water. The principle it uses is borrowed from insects, which is: surface tension tends to prevent the water’s surface from breaking, and the robot’s legs from sinking in.
Carnegie Mellon University mechanical engineer Metin Sitti (inspired by nature) wanted to create a robot that can walk walk on the surface of water after watching tiny bugs.
The tiny, lightweight, spindly legged creature robot can propel itself across water in all directions. It can turn even sharp corners like the insect does, so it’s very agile. Robot’s body is made of a super-light carbon fiber material. Its steel legs are coated with non-stick Teflon to repel water and is powered by a tiny battery.
Metin says: “We tried to make a robot to simulate the insect. Right now we move by five centimeters per second, and the real insect can go up to one meter per second. So we are like around 20-times less speed.”
It might be slower, but just like insects, the robot doesn’t float. It stands on top of water thanks to the physics of surface tension. The surface is so strong that the robot’s feet only dent the water without breaking the surface while supporting the weight of the robot without sinking.
“When they put their legs on the surface of the water surface, they repel each other, and that repulsion can lift the body because it’s so light bodyweight.” Metin says.
Metin’s creation could carry sensors to detect toxins in water supplies in the near future. “We can make many of them, like tens or hundreds of them, and cover a wide range and give you constant, continuous, water quality report,” he says.
Researchers have already received interest in the robot as an educational toy, to educate students and the public about water surface effects, and to provide entertainment.