DARPA is halfway to creating Spider-Man

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has been driven up a wall -- a vertical glass wall -- with new tech inspired by geckos (and probably Stan Lee).

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DARPA has created its own spidey-tech. Screenshot by Leslie Katz/CNET

DARPA says its "Z-Man" program is all about developing "biologically inspired climbing aids to enable warfighters to scale vertical walls," but let's be real. This project is about creating an actual Spider-Man.

Or perhaps, the Z-Man researchers just really want to make Nicole Richie's dad's greatest music video a reality (trigger alert: horrid '80s fashions are prominently displayed on the other side of this link).

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"Geckskin" in action. DARPA

Either way, the agency claims to have created technology that allows a 218-pound man carrying an additional 50 pounds in weight to scale 25 feet of vertical glass, a trick that's undeniably great for both superheroes and pop stars of previous generations.

The program actually takes its design cues from spiders and geckos, engineering synthetic versions of the biological awesomeness that allows them to climb just about anything.

One of the first Z-Man successes DARPA is sharing with the public is the development of "Geckskin," which the agency describes as "synthetically fabricated reversible adhesive inspired by the gecko's ability to climb surfaces of various materials and roughness, including smooth surfaces like glass."

In earlier tests, Geckskin was able to remain adhered to glass while supporting a static load of 660 pounds. The human climber used special climbing paddles with the synthetic gecko-foot material.

"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," Matt Goodman, the DARPA program manager for Z-Man, said in a release.

The polymer microstructure technology used in the climbing paddles was developed for DARPA by Draper Laboratory of Cambridge, Mass. The human climbing demonstration actually took place over two years ago, but the secretive agency is just getting around to sharing it with the public. By now, perhaps they've developed wrist-mounted web-shooters as well.

 

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