Chinese scientists have developed an aquatic microrobot that mimics the water-walking abilities of the Gerridae - a family of long-legged bugs commonly known as water striders that are able to run on top of the water's surface. The scientists say their bionic microbot incorporates improvements over previous devices that make it an ideal candidate for military spy missions, water pollution monitoring and other applications.

The robot has a body about the size of a quarter to which ten water-repellent, wire legs and two moveable, oar-like legs are attached. While the 10 long legs extending from either side of the robot's body keep it afloat, the two shorter, centrally-located, oar-like legs powered by two miniature motors propel it across the surface of the water.

The scientists say that although others have made tiny aquatic devices based on the water strider with the hope of developing bionic robots that can, among other things, monitor water supplies or conduct military missions when equipped with a camera, none have been practical, agile and cheap. Although their microrobot is around 390 times heavier than a water strider, they say it is able to stand, walk and turn freely on water surfaces.

The research team received funding from the Harbin Institute of Technology and the Natural Science Foundation of China. Their study appears in the journal, ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces.

Video (avi) of the robot in action is available here.

Source: American Chemical Society