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Robot Jesus bug goes from walking to jumping

Though it weighs more than 1,100 water striders, this little bot can leap 5.5 inches in the air while skimming the water's surface.

This Chinese robo-insect is billed as the first of its kind to leap on water.
American Chemical Society

Almost a year ago to the day, we wrote about a water-walking microrobot inspired by insects. Now the Jesus bug has ascended over the waves, as it were, at speeds up to 3.6 mph.

Qinmin Pan and colleagues from the Harbin Institute of Technology in China have redesigned their critter so that it jumps up and down like a real water strider, according to research published in ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces.

The team wanted to improve the Jesus bug-bot so that its legs would not break the surface of the water when leaping.

They used a porous, water-repellant nickel foam to make five legs in total for the bot -- two jumping legs and three supporting ones. The whole thing weighs 11 grams (less than half an ounce), as much as 1,100 water striders.

In tests, the bug leaped 5.5 inches in the air and nearly 14 inches across the water, more than twice its length, traveling at speeds of up to 3.6 mph.

"The present finding not only offers a possibility for vividly imitating and better understanding the amazing water-jumping capability of aquatic insects but also extends the application of porous and superhydrophobic materials to advanced robotic systems," the researchers write.

They add that the robot is more agile than others and can avoid obstacles on the water more easily.

Potential applications are numerous. It could be used to monitor lake water quality or as an espionage tool.

Or it could be the inspiration for a humanoid robot that walks on water. That would only lead to good things.

(Via American Chemical Society)