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Tiny gecko-inspired robot pulls 100 times its weight

Technically Incorrect: Engineers at Stanford build little robots with big pulling power, using a design inspired by a real animal.

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.


geckbot.jpg
Yes, that little robot is about to pull the mug. New Scientist/YouTube screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

As our computers get ever smaller, we still imagine robots being the same size as us.

We're egotistical like that. We don't quickly learn that small things can pack a devastating sort of power. Think of bombs and, well, the Vatican.

Please therefore watch this video and consider that these are tiny robots lifting more than 100 times their own weight. Do you have any friends that can do that?

The New Scientist tells me that these robots are the handiwork of Stanford mechanical engineers. A bot weighing just 9 grams -- or one fashion model's toenail -- can lift more than a kilogram.

One of the teenybotters can even pull 2,000 times its weight.

The art -- or as engineers like to call it, science -- behind these devices is based on geckos and inchworms. Geckos have very sticky feet, so these engineers created a sticky material upon which these geckbots climb and pull. The adhesive enjoys tiny spikes that spread out under pressure and straighten in order to move.

Their movement is, however, inspired by inchworms. One foot moves forward, the other stays back and supports the load. It's a little like two people carrying a sofa down steps. One moves, as the other supports.

Personally, I found most moving the little bot dragging the Stanford Engineering mug.

David Christensen and Elliott Hawkes, the two engineers behind this creation. They of course have many fine and practical uses in mind for these bots.

Christensen told me: "We are looking to bring the adhesive to market first, but then applications like these will be certainly of interest along with a ton of other things. It's pretty magical stuff to play with. Like a tape that can be turned off and on like a light switch but without any power or electronics."

But we humans are slovenly sloths, desperate for an easy life. Just imagine a tiny little thing pulling your furniture around, until you can choose the right new look for your living room. Or what if you could get one to climb a wall and hang your paintings, so you don't have to stand on a chair?

Perhaps the use most conducive to social harmony would be to have a super geckobot in your pocket when you're out with your loved one. Should they imbibe too much, talk too much, or just bore too much, you can send out the bot and drag your loved one back to the bosom of righteousness.

They'll love you for it in the morning.