A gecko can adhere to almost any surface due to the tiny fibers on its feet. The creature's unique ability inspired Carnegie Mellon researchers to create a robot that can do the same.
Almost as small as a quarter, "Waalbot" uses two sets of three-footed wheels each controlled by a motor to accomplish its mission. A spring-loaded tail ensures the bot will always push against the surface. Unlike other wall-climbing robots that use vacuum suction, magnetic attraction or claws that grip, Waalbot uses dry adhesion — a type of adhesion found in biology.
"Biological inspiration has given us a great starting point in designing new and agile miniature robots," said Metin Sitti, assistant professor of mechanical engineering. "But, we have gone beyond the biological principles using our synthetic materials and abstract motion mechanisms."
Sitti and his colleagues have recently fabricated and demonstrated mushroom-shaped fiber adhesives, which can attach to smooth surfaces as strong as the biological gecko foot-hairs. They could also be potentially self-cleaning.
"These new fiber adhesives will improve our WaalBot climbing performance drastically in the near future, and will be applied to a much wider range of products in addition to robotics," Sitti explained.
Potential applications for the wall-climbing robot include inspection and surveillance in hazardous environments or hard-to-reach areas and spacecraft inspection and repair.