Insect-inspired amphibious robot jumps like a water strider

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Scientists at Seoul National University examine their robot's extreme form of locomotion(Credit: Seoul National University)

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Despite what our science fiction-fueled imaginations love to be entertained with, there is more to the field of modern robotics than colossal combat machines or bionic baristas. Some projects may seem mundane by comparison, yet the results are no less impressive, especially the ones that enlighten through the process. Although it took a few trial and error attempts, scientists have finally created an insect-inspired robot that can jump off of water's surface.

Scientists from Seoul National University (SNU) and Harvard University have been studying how water strider insects are able jump off of water or ground with the same power and height. This is not the first time that researchers have looked to and emulated nature with robotics. We have complex quadrupeds that can run and jump over obstacles like an animal as well as insect-inspired robots that can move easily through fields of debris.

In order to understand the mechanics, researchers shot video to analyze the movement of water striders jumping off the water. They discovered that the insects use a sweeping motion that exerts maximum force, right below the amount that would break through the water's surface.

"Water's surface needs to be pressed at the right speed for an adequate amount of time, up to a certain depth, in order to achieve jumping," says the study's co–senior author Kyu Jin Cho, Associate Professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and Director of the Biorobotics Laboratory at Seoul National University. "The water strider is capable of doing all these things flawlessly."

After a few prototypes, the researchers created a robotic insect that successfully exerted 16 times its body weight on the water's surface without breaking it. The catapult mechanism, inspired by the way fleas jump, uses a combination of momentum and thrust that lets the robot achieve the same jumping height from either ground or the water's surface.

The body of the robot was made with self-assembling folding components, sort of like those found in pop-up books. Check out the video below to see how water striders jump in slow motion.

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