The U.S. military wants to give its solidiers the climbing capabilities of geckos, spiders and small animals—to scale tall buildings or other obstacles without the use of ropes and ladders. As part of DARPA's "Z-Man" program, a team at Stanford unveiled hand pads that are inspired by geckos.
Geckos use tiny bristles on their toes called setae, each of which is split into nano-sized tips called septulae. Weak electrical interactions between the molecules in septulae and the surface they are walking on provide grip that allows geckos to even climb upside down.
The researchers used silicon micro-wedges to make synthetic gecko bristles. They assembled hundreds of thousands of these bristles onto twenty-four tiles the size of stamps, which together make up a hand pad. A grad student used the hand pads to climb 12 feet up a glass wall.
"The technology could also be used to get large robots climbing like lizards," Vice reports. "Until now, wall-climbing robots have been rather petite."
The team is still working on making the pads stick to rough surfaces. But they're also looking ahead to ambitious applications of the material. According to Science:
The team is now working with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory to create adhesive-equipped robots that can catch space junk such as defunct satellites, Hawkes says. In a recent experiment in a zero-g environment, a bot equipped with a small adhesive patch gripped the solar panel of another 400-kilogram robot, slowed it down, and gently pulled it in another direction.