The crazier parts of the scientific community have long declared anything that can walk on water to be possessed by black magic, lizards and bugs included. But black magic or no, roboticists at the Harbin Institute of Technology in China have managed to make it work on a robotic insect that, in addition to walking on water, can also jump.
Modeled after a water strider, the legs of this robot are made of a a porous, water-repellent nickel foam. Real water striders, of course, do not have nickel foam legs, but the concept is the same: you spread the weight of the robot out enough that the surface tension of the water can support it. This is a tall order for a robot this large: weighing in at 11 grams, this porker is over a thousand times the mass of its biological inspiration.
To get the robot to jump, a separate set of legs was added, bringing the total to five. By using these actuating legs to push against the surface of the water, the robot was able to make leaps 14 centimeters high and 35 centimeters long, taking off at nearly 65 kph, which impressive for such a little guy.
Like that CIA fish from last week, a robot with these capabilities could be used for, uh, "water quality monitoring," 'cause that's totally what the CIA is into. Our guess is that the only water quality monitoring that robots like these will be doing is the kind where the water just happens to be right next to something that, by sheer coincidence, somebody wants to spy on.
Evan Ackerman is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. Since 2007, he has written over 6,000 articles on robotics and technology. He has a degree in Martian geology and is excellent at playing bagpipes.