Feeds

Italian boffin designs gecko-tech spiderman suit

Does whatever a spider-gecko can

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

An Italian boffin claims to have made a breakthrough in the red-hot field of gecko-related nanoengineering, perhaps of a magnitude that might allow working spiderman suits to be built.

Nicola Pugno's paper, Towards a Spiderman suit: large invisible cables and self-cleaning releasable super-adhesive materials will be published by the Institute of Physics' journal Condensed Matter tomorrow, according to the Institute's release. It has already gained substantial notoriety, being written about as long ago as last April.

Prof Pugno, of the Polytechnic of Turin, seeks to exploit the well-known miraculous properties of the fine hairs on gecko feet. As pretty much everyone knows by now, geckoes can hang upside down on a non-metaphorical glass ceiling. Their nanoscale-fine foot hairs stick to things owing to the Van der Waals force between temporary molecular dipoles.

Researchers have recently revealed that there are few limits to the potency of squamatan-foot nanohair applications. It's thought that spinoffs might include improvements to the currently unsatisfactory state of miniaturised robot-Jesus design: or perhaps an obviously desirable ability to levitate unbelievably thin baco-foil above a goldenballs-based sheet of left handed metamaterial.

Pugno, however, scorns impractical airy-fairy notions of diminutive divinely-empowered droids or eventual squamatan-effects aerial hover cruisers. Instead, he keeps his feet firmly stuck to the ceiling. The Italian engineering boffin reckons that a spiderman suit which would let its wearer hang from buildings and swing from sticky web strands is entirely feasible.

The grippy hands and feet would be provided by coating the gloves and boots of the spidey-suit with a "hierarchical structure" of branching carbon nanotubes. These could be made self-cleaning - or superhydrophobic - so as to avoid problems with dirt or water ruining the cling. Pugno isn't, erm, totally out on a limb here: British arms firm BAE Systems has already carried out related research.

As for the web strands, these would be provided in the form of a cable made of four million nanotube fibres. The ends of the fibres would feed through holes in a 1cm-square spacer plate, keeping them 5 microns apart, and then be joined to gecko-tastic fans of branching nanohair. Thus the ends of the cable would naturally stick to things. As a side-effect, the rope would be invisible as its individual fibres would be (relatively) far apart, and each smaller than the wavelength of visible light.

Prof Pugno was already mildly famous for saying that cables made of carbon nanotubes would not be strong enough to make a space elevator system; but now he seems confident that they could do the job for a costumed superhero.

“There are many interesting applications for our theory ... for window cleaners of big skyscrapers,” he says.

“With the idea for the adhesion now in place, there are a number of other mechanics that need addressing before the Spiderman suit can become a reality ... man’s muscles, for example, are different to those of a gecko. We would suffer great muscle fatigue if we tried to stick to a wall for many hours."

Not to mention that some kind of nifty wrist-mounted launcher will be needed for shooting the nanohair-tipped sticky strands; and it could be a bit difficult getting a spidey pattern onto a superhydrophobic self-cleaning suit. It would just reject the dye. Then there are nanotube manufacturing difficulties to be overcome; it could be more practical to use actual geckoes attached in large numbers to the suit and the ends of the ropes. This would present an odd appearance, but we're talking here about a guy stuck to the underside of a bridge or something; people won't be any more flabbergasted by a gaggle of geckoes attached to his wrists by tiny lines.

But Pugno is unruffled.

“It may not be long before we are seeing people climbing up the Empire State Building with nothing but sticky shoes and gloves to support them,” he says.®

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
GRAV WAVE DRAMA: 'Big Bang echo' may have been grit on the scanner – boffins
Exit Planet Dust on faster-than-light expansion of universe
Mine Bitcoins with PENCIL and PAPER
Forget Sudoku, crunch SHA-256 algos
SpaceX Dragon cargo truck flies 3D printer to ISS: Clawdown in 3, 2...
Craft berths at space station with supplies, experiments, toys
'This BITE MARK is a SMOKING GUN': Boffins probe ancient assault
Tooth embedded in thigh bone may tell who pulled the trigger
DOLPHINS SMELL MAGNETS – did we hear that right, boffins?
Xavier's School for Gifted Magnetotaceans
Big dinosaur wowed females with its ENORMOUS HOOTER
That's right, Doris, I've got biggest snout in the prehistoric world
Japanese volcano eruption reportedly leaves 31 people presumed dead
Hopes fade of finding survivors on Mount Ontake
That glass of water you just drank? It was OLDER than the SUN
One MEELLION years older. Some of it anyway
Canberra drone team dances a samba in Outback Challenge
CSIRO's 'missing bushwalker' found and watered
NASA rover Curiosity drills HOLE in MARS 'GOLF COURSE'
Joins 'traffic light' and perfect stony sphere on the Red Planet
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.
The next step in data security
With recent increased privacy concerns and computers becoming more powerful, the chance of hackers being able to crack smaller-sized RSA keys increases.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.
A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.