The springtail is a tiny, fascinating semiaquatic invertebrate capable of escaping predators by impressively leaping ten times’ its height, performing a midair U-turn, and finally landing atop the water’s surface. Although there are thousands of known springtail species in nature, the close relative to the flea remains a relatively obscure animal, despite its astounding capabilities. Thanks to a closer examination, however, researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology and South Korea’s Ajou University have not only gained a better understanding of the creature’s acrobatic skills, but recently pulled off mimicking the movements in their own penny-sized robotic imitator. The implications could one improve the movement of robots much larger than a grain-sized springtail. The authors recently published their findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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Per a recent report from The New York Times, biologists and keen-eyed observers previously believed springtails’ evasive maneuvers were largely random and uncontrolled. The key to a springtail’s gymnastics is a tiny organ called a furcula, which slaps the water underneath it to launch the animal into the air. In less than 20 milliseconds following liftoff (a world record for speed, by the way) springtails manage to orient themselves so as to land on their hydrophilic collophores—tubelike appendages capable of holding water and sticking to surfaces, thus allowing the springtails to sit comfortable atop ponds and lakes.

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Using a combination of machine training and observations, researchers were then able to construct a tiny, relatively simple robot that mimics springtails’ movements, down to their ability to accurately land around 75 percent of the time. Actual springtails, by comparison, stick 85 percent of their landings.

While extremely small, the robotic springtails’ results could help developments in the fields of engineering, robotics, and hydrodynamics, according to Kathryn Dickson, a program director at the National Science Foundation which partially funded the research, via a news release. Researchers also hope that further fine-tuning and study will allow them to gain insights into the evolutionary origins of flight in various organisms, as well as implement their advancements on other tiny robots used in water and airborne studies.