Scaling up walls like Spider Man comes closer to reality

August 27th, 2010 - 2:34 am ICT by IANS  

London, Aug 27 (IANS) Your dream of scaling up the walls just like Spider Man may soon be a reality as researchers from Stanford University, California, are developing gloves and shoes that would allow one to stick to and climb up walls.
The research team has created a rubber-like material covered with numerous tiny polymer fibres to imitate the gecko’s (a small lizard) hairs, which allows the animal to stick to walls. These hairs, which are called setae, are ten times thinner than a human hair.

The material is said to be strong and reusable, and leaves no residue or damage. It has been tested on a “robotic gecko” called Stickybot which can walk up panes of glass. Scientists are now on the way to making a version of the material that “would allow humans to climb with gecko adhesive.”

“Unless you use suction cups, which are kind of slow and inefficient, the other solution out there is to use dry adhesion, which is the technique the gecko uses,” quoted Professor Mark Cutkosky, the lead designer, as saying.

The secret lies in the gecko’s “one-way adhesive” which makes them very sticky when they touch a surface in one direction - but then come free when pulled back in another.

“It’s very different from Scotch tape or duct tape, where, if you press it on, you then have to peel it off,” Cutkosky added.

He said: “Other adhesives are like walking around with chewing gum on your feet: You have to press it into the surface and then you have to work to pull it off. But with directional adhesion, it’s almost like you can sort of hook and unhook yourself from the surface.”

The Stickybot is shaped like a gecko with four feet, each about the size of a child’s hand. As it steadily moves up the wall, the robot peels and then sticks its feet to the surface with ease, just like a real gecko.

The research team said that the material strong enough for humans is “in the works.”

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