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Jumping on water: Surface tension–dominated jumping of water striders and robotic insects

Science  31 Jul 2015:
Vol. 349, Issue 6247, pp. 517-521
DOI: 10.1126/science.aab1637

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How to walk and jump on water

Jumping on land requires the coordinated motion of a number of muscles and joints in order to overcome gravity. Walking on water requires specialized legs that are designed to avoid breaking the surface tension during motion. But how do insects, such as water striders and fishing spiders, manage to jump on water, where extra force is needed to generate lift? Koh et al. studied water striders to determine the structure of the legs needed to make jumping possible, as well as the limits on the range of motion that avoids breaking the surface tension (see the Perspective by Vella). They then built water-jumping robots to verify the key parameters of leg design and motion.

Science, this issue p. 517; see also p. 472

Abstract

Jumping on water is a unique locomotion mode found in semi-aquatic arthropods, such as water striders. To reproduce this feat in a surface tension–dominant jumping robot, we elucidated the hydrodynamics involved and applied them to develop a bio-inspired impulsive mechanism that maximizes momentum transfer to water. We found that water striders rotate the curved tips of their legs inward at a relatively low descending velocity with a force just below that required to break the water surface (144 millinewtons/meter). We built a 68-milligram at-scale jumping robotic insect and verified that it jumps on water with maximum momentum transfer. The results suggest an understanding of the hydrodynamic phenomena used by semi-aquatic arthropods during water jumping and prescribe a method for reproducing these capabilities in artificial systems.

  • * These authors contributed equally to this work.

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