Stanford graduate student Elliot Hawkes took on the task of creating a Gecko-inspired controllable adhesive for part of his dissertation project. And though it simply started as a research project, the resulting product is causing excitement far beyond the mechanical engineering department at Stanford University.
Hawkes along with a team of Stanford colleagues spanning different disciplines of study have created an adhesive that successfully allows a human to scale glass walls. We’re talking about a completely vertical ascent. The study of synthetic versions of gecko-like properties has been in the works for many years. Researchers before now have always had trouble with the real functionality, ease of use and control of the synthetics they create. But Hawkes and his team worked their way to a formula and design that embraces all the traits that were previously troublesome.
In a Stanford News article, Eric Eason (co-researcher/author) described how the adhesive design works in the same way a Gecko’s feet do:
“When the pad first touches the surface, only the tips touch, so it’s not sticky. But when the load is applied, and the wedges turn over and come into contact with the surface, that creates the adhesion force.”
The inventors felt that gloves were the best application for their adhesive because it could be fully controlled by the wearer.
Kids and adults alike could have a great time living out their Spider-Man dreams, scaling glass walls with the help of these gecko gloves, but fun is not their only purpose. While the inventors are interested in selling them in the toy market, they also have visions of further scientific applications.
“Some of the applications we’re thinking of involve manufacturing robots that lift large glass panels or liquid-crystal displays” another co-researcher Mark Cutkosky says. “We’re also working on a project with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory to apply these to the robotic arms of spacecraft that could gently latch on to orbital space debris, such as fuel tanks and solar panels, and move it to an orbital graveyard or pitch it toward Earth to burn up.”
While the current version of the glove can hoist about 200 pounds, Hawkes theorizes that increasing its size tenfold would result in it being able to carry about 2,000 pounds.