Gecko-Inspired Paddles Let a Man Climb Glass
DARPA has recently demonstrated bio-inspired Spiderman paddles allowing a person to climb a two story glass wall.
Why re-invent the wheel when nature already did the research and development over the past countless millenia? Geckos (and spiders) are among nature’s most skilled climbers, easily adhering to and scampering over most surfaces. How do they do it?
It all has to do with the wonderful engineering of their toes. They are covered with a multitude of tiny hairs (1/10 the diameter of a human hair) each ending in 100s of flat spatula-shaped structures smaller than the wavelength of visible light.
The immense total surface area of these tiny structures take advantage of the weak electric forces between atoms and molecules (called van de Waals forces). This adhesive attraction can support 15 pounds per square inch meaning a gecko can hang by one toe if it needed to.
This technique has been reverse-engineered before but only for light-weight proof-of-concept robots. Well geckos and robots can’t have all the fun so DARPA has successfully demonstrated for the first time a device that relatively hefty humans can use.
It’s only a matter of time now before we can all buy our own geeky gecko gloves.