Four Stanford University researchers led by engineer Mark Cutkosky were able to a gecko-inspired climbing system which allows a human to climb a glass wall using just a pair of hand-sized sticky-pads. Just like Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible did.
The inventors also hope the adhesives will have an immediate applicability in the manipulation of huge solar panels, displays or other massive objects without any help from suction power or chemical glues. The team will also collaborate with NASA to adapt the adhesive to robots.
A gecko’s toes are super-sticky due to a set of long, thin spatula-shaped formations called setae. These setae increase gecko’s feet stickiness by increasing surface area and by amplifying the weak electrical attractions between the toes and a random surface. Gecko’s toes stick well until the gecko shifts its weight. Of course they can stick countless of times more, unlike most man-made types of adhesive.
The Stanford group of researchers has designed, created and tested out various types of artificial adhesives that could copy the high surface area of the setae on a gecko’s feet. Unfortunately, these adhesive worked only for small weights, and a 154, 28 lbs human would require gecko-foot-like pads 10 times larger than a normal human hand in order to scale a wall.
“Scaling gecko adhesion is a challenge,”
This summer, the Stanford team worked with the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) on a program named “Z-man”. This project was also inspired by “geckos, spiders and small animals”. Meanwhile, DARPA publicly announced that they have created a gecko-adhesive-based climbing system that enabled a person to scale a wall. The Stanford researchers made also a public demonstration using their own type of adhesive.
Jeffrey Karp, a bio-engineer at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, pointed out that the test surface used in the demonstration was very clean, smooth, and flat. He told the Stanford team that, if they want their finding to be liable in the real world, they should find a way to use it while exposing it to humidity, rain, pollen, dust, and other contaminants. The Stanford group accepted the challenge, and said they hope to test the adhesive in especially extreme conditions.
Till then, they have successfully tested it this month in a zero-gravity plane with NASA, and they are currently working with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory to create “adhesive-equipped robots that can catch space junk such as defunct satellites.”