Who among us hasn’t wished to be licked by a radioactive tropical lizard, only to be granted the incredible ability to harness Van der Waal forces and scale even glassy vertical walls? Finally, we can stop microwaving all those geckos because DARPA has just unveiled a new climbing system that works exactly the same way as their super-sticky feet!
Dubbed the Z-Man project, the new, specialised climbing paddles were developed for DARPA by Cambridge Massachusetts’ Draper Laboratory. The paddles are coated with a specialised cloth called “Geckskin”, a stiff fabric impregnated with a reversible adhesive elastomer that clings to surfaces the same way that the microscopic setae and spatulae on a gecko’s feet do — through Van der Waals intermolecular forces. And like the gecko’s feet, this material strikes a delicate balance between holding firm to the surface and being pulled off of it as the user climbs.
“The gecko is one of the champion climbers in the Animal Kingdom, so it was natural for DARPA to look to it for inspiration in overcoming some of the manoeuvre challenges that US forces face in urban environments,” said Dr Matt Goodman, the DARPA program manager for Z-Man. “Like many of the capabilities that the Department of Defence pursues, we saw with vertical climbing that nature had long since evolved the means to efficiently achieve it. The challenge to our performer team was to understand the biology and physics in play when geckos climb and then reverse-engineer those dynamics into an artificial system for use by humans.”
Recently, DARPA demonstrated the latest iteration of its Geckskin by having a 100kg researcher (saddled with 20kg of recording gear) scale an 8m tall glass wall using naught but two climbing paddles. Tests are ongoing but DARPA hopes to one day incorporate the technology into the modern warfighter, giving him Spider Man-like abilities in urban combat scenarios. We can only hope that someday we can get a consumer model too. [DARPA]
Picture: Papa Bravo