Research ArticleBIOMIMETICS

A biologically inspired, flapping-wing, hybrid aerial-aquatic microrobot

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Science Robotics  25 Oct 2017:
Vol. 2, Issue 11, eaao5619
DOI: 10.1126/scirobotics.aao5619

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Abstract

From millimeter-scale insects to meter-scale vertebrates, several animal species exhibit multimodal locomotive capabilities in aerial and aquatic environments. To develop robots capable of hybrid aerial and aquatic locomotion, we require versatile propulsive strategies that reconcile the different physical constraints of airborne and aquatic environments. Furthermore, transitioning between aerial and aquatic environments poses substantial challenges at the scale of microrobots, where interfacial surface tension can be substantial relative to the weight and forces produced by the animal/robot. We report the design and operation of an insect-scale robot capable of flying, swimming, and transitioning between air and water. This 175-milligram robot uses a multimodal flapping strategy to efficiently locomote in both fluids. Once the robot swims to the water surface, lightweight electrolytic plates produce oxyhydrogen from the surrounding water that is collected by a buoyancy chamber. Increased buoyancy force from this electrochemical reaction gradually pushes the wings out of the water while the robot maintains upright stability by exploiting surface tension. A sparker ignites the oxyhydrogen, and the robot impulsively takes off from the water surface. This work analyzes the dynamics of flapping locomotion in an aquatic environment, identifies the challenges and benefits of surface tension effects on microrobots, and further develops a suite of new mesoscale devices that culminate in a hybrid, aerial-aquatic microrobot.

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