‘Water walking’ discovery could usher in new era of sea drones

24 Apr 2019

Image: © GlatzikusMaximus/Stock.adobe.com

Researchers have taken pond skipping to another level to develop a new form of travel dubbed ‘water walking’.

Walking on water may be a pursuit thought of as being exclusive to religious figures, but now it seems it can be achieved – to some degree – using elastic spheres.

In a paper published to Scientific Reports, researchers from Utah State University (USU) showed how firing these spheres at tanks of water at a particular angle can allow them to travel great distances.

Led by Tadd Truscott of USU’s Splash Lab, the researchers used high-speed cameras to record the spheres skipping over a tank of water. Dubbed ‘water walking’, the phenomenon occurs when the spheres gain significant speed over the first several impacts with the water.

This results in the sphere taking on a deformed, oblong shape similar to the stones used for skipping across a pond. This led to the discovery that there are two different types of water walking: the first skipping once every full rotation and the second skipping twice every full rotation.

This distinction can be controlled with an equation that can predict the number of skips that will occur.

Truscott said this research provides new insights to water impact physics – an important area of study in naval operations and maritime and ocean engineering.

“Although this has been a long study, the new modes we discovered make it easier for us to envision using the technology for practical uses like water-walking drones,” he said.

The past few years have seen enormous advances in water drone technology, with engineers finding ways to take the vehicles from the skies to the oceans. One such development was the RoboBee drone.

In 2017, researchers revealed that an improved version of the RoboBee is 1,000 times lighter than any previous aerial-to-aquatic robot and was capable of propelling itself out of water to safely land at a moment’s notice. It could be used for numerous applications, from search-and-rescue operations to environmental monitoring and biological studies.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic