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:
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.
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.
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.