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Recent biological studies on water strider insects revealed how they maintain stability and maneuver on the surface of water. While macroscale bodies use buoyancy, these very small insects use surface tension force to balance their weight on water. This paper proposes a biologically inspired miniature robot that utilizes the unique scaling advantage of these insects. The paper focuses on understanding the physics of the interaction between the insect and the surface of water and on designing a robot that mimics their key features. Hydrophobic Teflon coated wire legs optimized to take the most advantage of the surface tension force are used to support the weight of the 1-g robot. It is shown that twelve of these legs can support up to 9.3 g of payload. A T-shape actuation mechanism with three piezoelectric unimorph actuators is designed and studied to enable controlled locomotion. Static and dynamic properties of the robot are analyzed and compared with the experimental results. The tethered robot can successfully make both linear and rotational motions. Maximum forward speed is measured to be 3 cm/s, and the rotational speed is 0.5 rad/s. This robot proposes a new way of locomotion on water surface for future robots and devices.
Date of Publication: June 2007