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Old 04-06-2006, 10:25 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Say your prayers....Robot walks on water...

By Jennifer Bails
Thursday, April 6, 2006

Inspired by the strange motion of the basilisk lizard, Carnegie Mellon University mechanical engineers have built a tiny robot that can sprint across land and water with equal aplomb.
Although it is only a basic prototype, the researchers imagine their amphibious Water Runner robot could be equipped with biochemical sensors that monitor water quality; deployed with cameras for spying, search-and-rescue or exploration; or outfitted with bacteria to break down pollutants.
"A legged robot that can walk across land and water literally has the entire world open to it," said assistant professor of engineering Metin Sitti, who heads Carnegie Mellon's NanoRobotics Lab.
By understanding the mechanics of living creatures such as the gecko lizard, water-strider bugs, beetles and bacteria, Sitti's research team is constructing a veritable zoo of fully autonomous, biologically inspired robots that can fly, swim, climb walls and navigate terrain of all kinds.

"My dream is that, in the end, we will combine all of these forms of dynamic locomotion into one robot," Sitti said.
For the most recent addition to his minirobot menagerie, Sitti emulated the motion of the basilisk lizard, a skittish member of the Iguana family that lives in the rain forests of Central and South America. Sometimes it is called the Jesus lizard because of its ability to run on water.
In 2004, Harvard University biologists determined how the lizards manage to scamper on the water's squishy surface on their two hind legs, with front arms outstretched, at speeds faster than 1.5 meters a second -- the human equivalent of running about 65 miles an hour.
They found that the lizard first slaps the water with its web-like foot, strokes downward with an elliptical motion to create an air pocket and then pulls its foot out of the water while curling its toes inward.
By repeating this slapping and stroking sequence up to 10 times a second, the lizard generates enough forward thrust and lift to run on water without tipping over or sinking.
With the help of first-year doctoral student Steven Floyd and CMU senior Terence Keegan, Sitti used the principles of basilisk lizard locomotion to design and build a first-of-its-kind Water Runner robot.
For now, the robot has a foot-long, boxy body made from carbon fibers with four plastic legs driven by a lightweight, high-power motor. The four legs give the robot extra lift needed to stay afloat.
This stripped-down version of the Water Runner splashes in quick circles around a plastic swimming pool like a happy puppy -- the first step toward a truly amphibious robot.
"This is proof of concept," said Sitti, who is working with his students to reduce the weight of the robot without hindering its performance. Once the robot can run smoothly on water, making the transition to land propulsion will be simple, he said. The current generation of the Water Runner is tethered to a power supply, but eventually it will be battery-operated and steered by remote control.
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