clock menu more-arrow no yes

This gecko-inspired contraption lets you effortlessly climb glass walls

A group of Stanford engineers have invented a pretty cool device for climbing glass walls — a pair of super-adhesive hand pads, inspired by a gecko's feet:

hand pads

(Hawkes et. al.)

The device, described in a new study published today in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface, involves a pair of extremely adhesive hand pads, linked to a pair of leg supports.

The hand pads have a number of special characteristics. If you touched their surface, they'd feel entirely dry, yet they cling to the wall with a tremendous amount of strength. Still, the user can easily pull them off the wall simply by taking his or her weight off them — they only stick hard when there's pressure trying to pull them down.

They accomplish all this due to a design that's inspired by the famously sticky feet of a gecko. Their feet are covered by tiny ridges called setae, and recent research has found that the particular angles and flexibility of these setae on a nanoscopic scale produces van der Waals forces that let geckos effortlessly cling to walls.

gecko foot

The underside of a Gecko's foot. (Bjørn Christian Tørrissen)

Other researchers have previously used the same principles to produce a small robot that can climb walls, but they weren't able to scale up the design to support a human.

The Stanford engineers, however, have created a different design that works just as well at a human scale.

gecko foot 2

The backside of a gecko's foot (left) and the new device (right). (Hawkes et. al.)

gecko foot 3

A schematic of the new device. (Hawkes et. al.)

The contraption is designed so that even though the hands are sticking to the wall, the legs are supporting the weight. In fact, for a person using this device, climbing a slick glass wall would feel about as easy as climbing a ladder.