Gecko-inspired robot can climb perfectly smooth walls

Posted by Kate Taylor

Inspired by the gecko, researchers at Simon Fraser University have developed a tank-like robot that can climb smooth walls or cross ceilings without using magnets or suction cups.

It could be used for everything from inspecting nuclear power plants to search and rescue operations.

The team says its 240g robot, the Timeless Belt Climbing Platform (TBCP-II)can transfer from a flat surface to a wall over both inside and outside corners at speeds of up to 3.4cm per second.

"With an adequate power supply, our robot is capable of functioning fairly independently when it encounters larger-scale objects such as boxes or walls," says researcher Jeff Krahn.

"However, we are still developing a control strategy to ensure the robot is capable of fully autonomous functionality."

The toes of geckos are believed to get their sticking power from van der Waals forces – very weak, attractive forces that occur between molecules.

Their dry, but sticky toe pads, also known as dry fibrillar adhesives, were mimicked in the lab using the polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS), and were manufactured to contain tiny mushroom cap shapes, just 17 micrometers wide and 10 micrometers high.

"While van der Waals forces are considered to be relatively weak, the thin, flexible overhang provided by the mushroom cap ensures that the area of contact between the robot and the surface is maximized," says Krahn.

"The adhesive pads on geckos follow this same principle by utilizing a large number of fibres, each with a very small tip. The more fibres a gecko has in contact, the greater attachment force it has on a surface," Krahn continued."

There's a video of it in action, below.