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New “Sticky-Foot” Robots Can Crawl Up Walls

New “Sticky-Foot” Robots Can Crawl Up Walls

ESA
January 02, 2014

Climbing robots that mimic the stickiness of gecko lizard feet could work in space as well as on Earth, ESA has shown, raising the prospect of hull-crawling automatons tending future spacecraft.

Robots crawling across spacecraft surfaces are a common sight in science fiction films from Silent Running to Wall-E. But, in reality, how might they stick in place while still remaining mobile?

Researchers from ESA and Simon Fraser University in Canada subjected gecko-inspired ‘dry adhesive’ materials to space vacuum and temperatures, finding the stickiness is retained throughout.

Engineers from the University’s School of Engineering Science have demonstrated such adhesives with a family of ‘Abigaille’ crawling robots.

“This approach is an example of ‘biomimicry’, taking engineering solutions from the natural world,” explained Michael Henrey of Simon Fraser University.

A gecko’s feet are sticky due to a bunch of little hairs with ends just 100–200 nanometres across – around the scale of individual bacteria. This is sufficiently tiny that atomic interactions between the ends of the hairs and the surface come into play.

 

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image credit: ESA

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