How An Insect Using Its Butt To Flick Pee Droplets Could Keep Your Smartwatch Dry

How An Insect Using Its Butt To Flick Pee Droplets Could Keep Your Smartwatch Dry
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How bugs can keep your smartwatch dry by catching urine droplets with their umbilical cord

How bugs can keep your smartwatch dry by catching urine droplets with their umbilical cord


The incredible ways this flaw can lead to more efficient designs for waterproof devices.

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Close-up of a green insect with a drop of liquid hanging from its back.
An insect that shoots a sharp shot into the anal pin with a drop of urine.
Photo: Bhamla Lab, Georgia Tech

The glass-winged sniper is such an impressive insect in action that it could lead to more effective designs for waterproof devices.

Saad Bhamla first accomplished this feat in his own backyard in Atlanta, Georgia. Sniper produces clear, round urine droplets at lightning speed. Bhamla, a professor of biomolecular engineering at Georgia Tech, whipped out his iPhone to shoot a slow-motion video.

"The older I get, the more I realize he's doing something cool," Bhamla told The Verge .

It turns out that the urine sniper has achieved something that has never been documented in biological systems: a phenomenon called supermobility. How the snipers do this is described in a research paper published this week in the journal Nature Communications by Bhamla and colleagues. And it will help people figure out how to get super moves, not with urine but with smartwatches and other self-draining devices.

Simply put, supermotion allows an elastic body to fly faster than the one moving it. The perfect timing between the squishy item and its slingshot gives the item an energy boost. To understand this phenomenon, imagine an Olympic jumper, Bhamla explains. Experienced divers can jump off the diver for maximum resonance energy.

After capturing the video with an iPhone, Bhamla and his colleagues turned to a high-speed camera and microscope to get a closer look at the sniper. What they found held the key to insects' unique way of doing business, the anus pin, also known as butt vibration. The vibration of the navel causes it to move backwards to make room for the inflowing urine, causing the insect to form a drip at the tip of the tail. At the same time, the vibrations compress the droplets and energy is generated by surface tension.

Once the drop has reached the right size and shape, the vibrations move back 15 degrees. Then he hits the drop like a pinball machine. The vibration of the chest is very fast, with an acceleration of more than 40G, which is 40 times faster than the acceleration of a cheetah's run. Even more surprising is that the urine flows faster than the vibration of the hips, indicating a super move.

Also, this tactic is energy efficient. Eventually the drop flies faster than the catapult that launches it. Snipers pee like this to save energy because they pee a lot . Snipers drink and urinate more than 300 times their body weight per day while consuming low-calorie, low-nutrient vegetable juices. He had to pee to keep the drops from sticking to him like maple trees.

What does this have to do with smartwatches? For example, Apple Watch's water lock can remove water from the device after swimming. But as far as Bhamla knows, such devices don't yet use supermotion. If engineers can learn from snipers, they can design more efficient equipment drainage systems. This keeps your watch dry and strong for longer. The same type of technology can be used in hearing aids or anything else you want to make waterproof.

The loudspeaker installed on the kitchen table records with a camera.
The researchers tested this method with loudspeakers.
Image: Bhamla workshop

Bhamla and his team tested sniper tactics by pouring water from a loudspeaker onto the kitchen table. They use the speaker's vibrations to compress the tiny droplets, creating surface tension. With the right timing, the drops can shoot at high speeds.

While handy, this handy trick hasn't earned the insect the nickname "sniper." It is primarily known as a pest for farmers in the United States. Bite marks look like small bullet holes in the leaves and can spread disease from one plant to another. A lot of urine can peel the fruit.

Bhamla hopes her research will inspire more people to look at insects from a new perspective. "I think it's going to get little kids and adults going into their backyard and looking at it and having fun," he told The Verge . "It's so much fun. It's good enough for me."

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