A scientist from California has made scaling walls à la Spider-Man a reality – with inspiration from a little lizard species. Elliot Hawkes, a PhD candidate in biomimetics engineering at Stanford University, has devised a pair of ‘gecko gloves’ that mimic the sticky-like properties of the reptile’s feet, allowing the user to climb vertical glass walls with his weight supported; it’s a set-up the 27-year-old scientist calls “synthetic adhesion system”. “The device employs about the same muscles as climbing a ladder,” Hawkes told Metro.
PHOTOS: Hi-tech ‘Gecko gloves’ will have you climbing walls
Metro: First of all, anybody can become a real… Gecko-Man?
Hawkes: I designed the system to allow almost anyone to be able to use it. Unlike geckos, humans do not have very strong upper bodies. We are evolved to walk and run, and our main strength is in our legs. Therefore, the system uses the legs to lift the body weight. The hands only place and remove the adhesive.
Is this invention connected to your other work?
I began working on this one about 5 years ago. First I created a small climbing robot, named Stickybot. Ever since then, I have imagined being able to climb a wall just like this little robot. It seemed like the ultimate challenge for the adhesives.
Isn’t it hard to climb with your system?
It isn’t particularly physically demanding. It uses about the same muscles as climbing a ladder. It does take focus to move the right leg with the right hand, and the left leg with the left hand, and to look up to see what your hands are doing, but does not strain your arm muscles.
Can it be used on other surfaces?
The adhesives we use in this paper are designed for relatively smooth surfaces like glass, metal, polished stone and varnished wood. But the system for load sharing and climbing could be used with any number of synthetic adhesives designed for other surfaces. We have another technology in our lab, Microspines, which we could use with the system to climb concrete, bricks, stucco and rough surfaces.
In what industries can your system be used?
— The most near-term application is in manufacturing, moving large objects around a factory. These objects could be glass sheets, TVs, computer screens, or solar panel, for instance. Further off, we are engaged in a project with the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab. The goal is to gently touch and grasp “space junk” by attaching to solar panels, fuel tanks, etc. If you’ve seen or heard of the movie “Gravity”, you will understand the motivation.