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Analytical Chemistry

Calcium carbide powers water-leaping robot

Researchers harness simple chemistry to propel this robot out of the water and into the air

by Giuliana Viglione
September 20, 2019 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 97, ISSUE 37

 

Credit:Sci. Robot./C&EN

Robots that can navigate different types of terrain could help scientists collect information in hard-to-reach places. That navigation can be tricky, however. For example, launching a robot from the water into the air consumes a lot of energy. Taking inspiration from creatures such as the flying squid, researchers at Imperial College London have developed a robot that can propel itself through the air from an aquatic starting point (Sci. Rob. 2019, DOI: 10.1126/scirobotics.aax7330). Unlike previous water-leaping robots that rely on heavy compressed gas canisters or external power sources to achieve flight, the new glider uses a lightweight solid fuel—calcium carbide. A small pump on board draws water from the robot’s surroundings, allowing the water to react with the calcium carbide to produce acetylene gas. When the gas is ignited, the robot launches into the air via a jet of water and combustion products. The robot can also glide through the air, extending its maximum range to 26 meters. It can carry enough fuel for 10 consecutive launches; when it lands, the chamber begins to refill until it reaches its optimal launch angle, at which point it takes off again. The time between launches—currently about 20 minutes—could be used to collect data or water samples. Raphael Zufferey, the engineer who co-led the new study, says the robot could be used to collect data around icebergs, during floods, or in polluted waters.

The following is a script of this video.

Giuliana Viglione: This robot can launch itself from the water into the air. Robots like this one that can navigate over different terrains could help scientists collect data in hard-to-reach places.

This leaping robot uses a solid fuel called calcium carbide. A small pump on board draws water from its surroundings, and the water then reacts with the calcium carbide to produce combustible acetylene gas. When the gas is ignited, the robot flies into the air, propelled by a jet of water and combustion products. Once airborne, the robot can glide up to 26 meters. When it lands, the chamber begins to refill with water to prepare for relaunch. It can do this 10 times in a row before needing to be refueled.

The Imperial College London researchers who built the bot say it could be used to collect data or water samples in polar regions, during floods, or in polluted waters.

Music:

“Life of Riley” by Kevin MacLeod is licensed under CC BY 4.0.

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