When placed on an extremely hot substrate, some drops levitate and can be propelled over specially textured surfaces. Inspired by this work, researchers are using similar principles to explore manipulation of levitating plates using surface texture. Their apparatus consists of a semi-porous, grooved surface that ejects air upward to levitate Plexiglas objects – think air hockey table with grooves. With enough airflow, the Plexiglas levitates. The grooves force air in a particular direction – in the case of the herringbone pattern, this is in the direction of opening – and, as the air moves, it drags its Plexiglas hovercraft along. As shown in the second animation, grooves can do more than move the glass linearly; with patterns offset by 90-degrees, they can make the hovercraft rotate.
Here’s an interesting next step for anyone out there with an air hockey table and a 3D printer: does the directional manipulation work if the grooves are on the object and not the table? In other words, can you create an air hockey puck that preferentially goes to your opponent’s goal? (Image and resource credit: D. Soto et al., source)