Stanford research lets humans climb glass just like a gecko lizard

Humans may soon be able to walk up glass walls just like gecko lizards as a result of research undertaken by engineers at Stanford.

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To mimic the animal’s wall crawling ability, researchers investigated the small hairs known as setae that are located on gecko’s feet. They discovered that these tiny bristles generate an electrical attraction called van der Waals force which helps them to stick to different surfaces.

If all 6.5 million setae were in use at the same time, a gecko’s feet would be able to hold up a 286-pound human. However, just as geckos can only actually lift a maximum weight of 4.4 pounds, scientists found that it was difficult to scale up this force to lift heavier objects.

Researchers at Stanford University overcame this hurdle by attaching footholds to the adhesive hand pads, so the climber is not support by his arms, but instead simply stands on the foot ledges. His weight actually keeps him attached to the wall, as the adhesive being used becomes stickier when more force is pulling on it.

The two hand pads covered with these adhesive strands or microwedges are made up of 24 small tiles that can be attached or detached easily.

Eliot Hawkes, the lead study author on the project, told LiveScience that the key to recreating the gecko’s natural features was finding a material that becomes more flexible when it’s being pulled on, the opposite of most natural fibres.

"To be able to climb glass felt a little bit magical — it feels like you're hooking this device onto a perfectly flat smooth surface, and it doesn't feel possible," he said.

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So far, the device only attaches to glass, but Hawkes is hopeful that the technology can be extended to other surfaces in the near future.

Image Credit: LiveScience