Think your bench max is impressive? Just wait ’till you see this video. A group of mechanical engineers from Stanford University has developed a set of tiny robots capable of lifting/pulling objects that are hundreds of times their own weight — including one that can move objects over 1700 times heavier than itself. That’s like you dragging around a blue whale.
Their secret? Super-sticky feet. Inspired by the foot of the gecko lizard, the robots’ footpads are covered in an array of tiny rubber spikes that adhere onto whatever surface the robot is climbing. When lateral pressure is applied to these spikes, they bend a little bit — increasing their surface area and causing them to become even stickier. When the bot picks up its foot, the spikes straighten out, permitting them to easily detach from the surface.
With the help of these gecko pads, the robots then use an inchworm-like motion to tug objects forward. By scooting one foot forward while the other stays anchored in place, the bots avoid slipping or missing a step. The adhesive pads are actually so strong that the robots can move not only horizontally along flat surfaces, but also vertically up walls.
In the video, the researchers show off a number of different prototypes. The first one shown weighs in at about 9 grams, but can lift over a kilogram (2.2 pounds) as it climbs up a wall. A smaller version of this bot tips the scales at just 20 milligrams, but can carry 500 milligrams up a vertical surface.
The most impressive feat of strength comes from a ground bot nicknamed μTug. Despite weighing just 12 grams, this little guy can drag objects over 1700 times his own weight. The video shows him lugging around a mug full of coffee, a stack of different weights, and even a 45 pound (20.5 kg) plate.
Right now there aren’t many practical uses for the bots, but in the future the researchers reckon robots like these could be scaled up and used to haul heavy loads around factories and building sites, or perhaps even be used in emergency situations.