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Gecko-inspired adhesive lets you climb wallsMechanical engineers at Stanford University have developed a substance that mimics gecko toes. Not just for scaling walls in Spiderman-like fashion, the adhesive could help clean up space debris and be used on automobile assembly lines.CNET's Sumi Das...
In the quest to build a better climbing robot, mechanical engineers at Stanford chose an unusual muse: the gecko. We, we talked to biologists and said, "Okay, well, what animals are out there that are, that have, really excellent wall-climbing abilities, and they're fast, and agile, and so on." The gecko stands out. They can run at a meter per second up. down, in any direction. They can work on both smooth and rough surfaces. Grad student Elliott Hawkes, along with other researchers developed a substance that like gecko feet, can easily attach and detach to surfaces repeatedly. And it works without magnets or electricity. The adhesive is made out of silicon rubber. So it's, it's not actually sticky. It has a cool property that when you just touch, touch it to the glass, it doesn't feel tacky or sticky at all. But when you put your weight on it, it then engages. The invention led to a superhero moment for Hawkes. These pads equipped with the adhesive and supports for his feet turned Hawks's hands into gecko toes, letting his scale this 12 foot wall, albeit slowly. That had been a goal for a couple of years and it was very exciting to get up there and look down, and be like all right. [LAUGH] We did it. We lift it off with a rubber band. The rubber band doesn't even really stretch. So now we come down here, wrap the rubber band around the loading point and pull. [NOISE] The key to the adhesive is a sea of tiny wedges invisible to the human eye. This silicone model shows what a single wedge looks like enlarged 100 times. When you bring it into a surface, initially they're like so. And, because it's just the sharp tip of the wedge, the contact area is very small. So, there's no adhesion. They're not sticky. But, now if I apply a sheer force, they all bend over like this. And suddenly the contact area's much larger. This microscopic feature gives the adhesive its unique properties. But makes it challenging to produce in larger quantities. We make this adhesive. We, we, we make the mold by hand. We do micro machining. And then we cast the polymer into the mold. And we make little, little patch. Inches you know, four by four inches or ten by ten centimeters at a time. It's sort of a handcraft. NASA is exploring using the adhesive to grab space junk. And the CEO of a car company sees the potential to streamline windshield installations. They use suction which leaves a big circular suction mark at the end. which she then has do to whole nother step to clean afterwards and since ours doesn't leave any residue, she's was very interested in that. But don't cling on to hopes for tapping your inner Spiderman. Standford isn't looking to license the technology for any climbing devices. In Standford California, I'm Sumi Das Cnet.com for CBS news.