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Wall-scaling gecko robots to clean skyscrapers?29th of January 2014
Robots using a gecko-like motion to scale walls may clean our skyscraper windows of the future.
A prototype gecko robot is said to be able to adhere to surfaces in low temperatures by means of a dry glue. This enables it to crawl sideways and vertically in cold conditions without fear of falling.
The technology combines a clingy silicone compound with a chemical force known as the Van der Waals force. Geckos use this force in nature when climbing walls.
"The adhesive pads on geckos use a large number of fibres, each with a very small tip," said Jeff Krahn, one of the researchers working on the project. "The more fibres a gecko has in contact, the greater attachment force it has on a surface."
Developed by the European Space Agency and electrical engineers at Simon Fraser University in Canada, the prototype robot can climb at speeds of up to 3.4 centimetres a second. It has a computer brain to allow it to act autonomously.
The creators claim that a major advantage of the technology is the fact that unlike other forms of adhesive such as glue or tape, it leaves behind no sticky residue. This makes it ideal for window-cleaning, say the developers.
The gecko robot could be used for other tasks dangerous to humans such as inspecting nuclear power plants or performing search-and-rescue missions in collapsed buildings. And since a gecko's foot or any other body operating under the Van der Waals force can theoretically adhere just as easily to the surface of the International Space Station as a standard wall, the robots may also someday be used for satellite repairs in space.