For all flack that Spider-Man gets in his own fictional universe (particularly the 2007 film rendition…), there’s no denying that the ability to climb up walls is something we’re all fascinated by. So fascinated, in fact, that scientists have built a robot that can climb walls while carrying up to five times its own mass.
The unnamed robot is the creation of Dr. Fumiya Iida and fellow researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, Switzerland. The secret to its success is in its footpads, which are coated in an adhesive that’s heated to melting point. This thermoplastic allows the footpads to flow onto the surfaces they come in contact with to form a temporary bond, providing the ability to grip to walls. It’s not exactly as graceful or speedy as the natural (or radioactive spider) solution, but it apparently works.
“Our technology uses thermoplastic adhesives, which are much stronger than those used in gecko-type climbing systems,” researcher Liyu Wang told New Scientist. The thermoplastics began melting at around 70 degrees Celsius (158 degress Fahrenheit), and that appeared to be the temperature that provided maximum tackiness for the robot’s feet. Additional elements were still needed for a fast cool so the robot could lift the feet and take the next step.
Watching the robot in action is a somewhat amusing proposition. If anything, it looks more like a diminutive version of Star Wars‘ “Power Droid” that very slowly walks up vertical surfaces. Despite the slowness of the entire process (it takes around five minutes of cooling before the robot’s foot is free enough to attempt another step), the scientific development is amazing to watch. It is, after all, walking up a wall – and a wall of either stone or wood. This thing can also deal with rough terrain, unlike the window-washing robot we’ve previously seen that can only adhere to glass. Imagine the possibilities once someone manages to evolve the technology into something that’s both faster-acting and larger scale.
For now, Wang says that the team is considering the tech as something for vehicular usage. “We are thinking about using this to climb cliffs or other complex natural environments, which no previous climbing technologies can handle,” Wang says. It’s not quite the Spider-Man suit for humans that we’re all hoping for just yet, but we can hold out hope for awhile longer.