‘Mechanical lizard’ can scale glass walls

A Stanford mechanical engineer has created a robot that can scale a wall of glass, thanks to feet that have been modelled after the toes of a gecko.

Mark Cutkosky, a professor of mechanical engineering and co-director of Stanford’s Center for Design Research, developed the Stickybot after previously designing a robot that could conquer rough vertical surfaces such as brick walls and concrete.

The secret to the Stickybot’s ability lies in the use of an adhesive rubber-like material with tiny polymer hairs which has been made from a micro-scale mould. These were cut to the shape of Stickybot’s four feet and then attached to them to enable the robot to climb smooth surfaces.

As it steadily moves up the wall, the robot peels and sticks its feet to the surface with ease, resembling a mechanical lizard.

The team’s next project involves scaling up the material so that it could be used to assist human climbers. A technology called Z-Man, which would allow humans to climb up similar surfaces, is in the works.

Cutkosky and his team are also working on a Stickybot successor — one that can turn in the middle of a climb. Because the adhesive they have developed only sticks in one direction, turning requires rotating the foot, so the new Stickybot robot will have rotating ankles, just like geckos do.