Hello,

We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not an Insider? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

Katherine Bourzac

A View from Katherine Bourzac

Beetle Boat Runs on Surface Tension

A tiny bio-inspired boat is powered by the surface tension of water.

  • January 22, 2009

Researchers have made a small boat that doesn’t require oars or pedals to move forward but relies on the energy of the water surface itself.

The mechanism is inspired by the larvae of the beetle Pyrrhalta. A pyrrhalta larva floating on the water propels itself forward by bending its back, releasing surface tension on its head and tail, and creating a capillary thrust that pulls it forward. The two-centimeter-long boat, designed by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh and presented at the MEMS 2009 conference in Sorrento, Italy, this week, uses a low-energy electrode to change the surface tension at its tail end to create propulsion, and another electrode at the front to act as a rudder. It could be powered by a solar panel and developed into a low-maintenance water-quality monitoring device. The video below shows the boat in action; the second half shows the rudder capability.

Tech Obsessive?
Become an Insider to get the story behind the story — and before anyone else.

Subscribe today
Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe to Insider Plus.
  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus the digital magazine, extensive archive, ad-free web experience, and discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events.

    See details+

    Print + Digital Magazine (6 bi-monthly issues)

    Unlimited online access including all articles, multimedia, and more

    The Download newsletter with top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox

    Technology Review PDF magazine archive, including articles, images, and covers dating back to 1899

    10% Discount to MIT Technology Review events and MIT Press

    Ad-free website experience

/3
You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. This is your last free article this month. for unlimited online access. You've read all your free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for more, or for unlimited online access. for two more free articles, or for unlimited online access.