Feeds

Spiderman Beetleman wall-crawl glove/boot tech invented

Does whatever certain kinds of beetle can

Application security programs and practises

Boffins in the US say they have made a step upward in the quest for miracle switch-on, switch-off sticky devices that could allow people to walk on walls and ceilings in superhero crimefighter style.

The device, brainchild of US profs Paul Steen and Michael Vogel, works using the surface tension of water. Just as two glass slides will stick together when wet, Steen and Vogel think that a "palm sized" device could be made to grip a wall or ceiling and hold on against a weight of hundreds of pounds.

The secret lies in creating many blobs of water between the device and the surface, rather than just one. This trick is already employed in nature by certain beetles in Florida, apparently, able to hang onto leaves against forces of 100 times their own weight and yet instantly unstick themselves as desired.

"In our everyday experience, these forces are relatively weak," says Steen. "But if you make a lot of them and can control them, like the beetle does, you can get strong adhesion forces."

In the new beetlemimetic tech, the sticky plate has thousands of tiny holes in it, just microns across. An electric field - generated by a regular 9-volt battery - causes tiny droplets of water to be squeezed through the holes, each one generating a minuscule sticky blob in contact with the target surface.

The electrostatic pump is cunningly designed so that no more water can come out once it's switched off, so preventing the blobs running together and losing effectiveness. When the electric field is reversed, the droplets are sucked back into the holes and the sticking effect disappears.

Thus far a prototype with 1,000 300-micron holes has held 30 grams, and shown that Steen and Vogel's theoretical equations governing beetlemimetic adhesion plates seem to be correct. According to their calculations, a square-inch of plate using millions of 1-micron holes should be able to hold on against a 15lb+ pull, such that a gauntlet or bootsole unit 3"x5" would support 225lb.

That seems to be in the Spiderman - well, Beetleman - league, certainly. Though as ever it seems the surface to be stuck to might need to be nice and flat and strongly bound together: like most wall-crawler kit, beetlemimetics is perhaps best used on windows or glass ceilings.

But there would be other applications, according to Steen. The cunning multi-beetle-blob tech could also be used to exert outward force rather than creating stickiness, by putting a film over the tiny holes. The film would thus encapsulate the water blobs, and millions of little bumps would pop up on activation - apparently exerting powerful forces on the same scale as the stickiness app.

"You can think about making a credit card-sized device that you can put in a rock fissure or a door, and break it open with very little voltage," according to Steen.

"It's a fun thing to think about," he adds.

Well, for a while anyway. Full details on the latest in beetlemimetic electric droplet kit should be online shortly in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. ®

Build a business case: developing custom apps

More from The Register

next story
Asteroid's DINO KILLING SPREE just bad luck – boffins
Sauricide WASN'T inevitable, reckon scientists
BEST BATTERY EVER: All lithium, all the time, plus a dash of carbon nano-stuff
We have found the Holy Grail (of batteries) - boffins
The Sun took a day off last week and made NO sunspots
Someone needs to get that lazy star cooking again before things get cold around here
Boffins discuss AI space program at hush-hush IARPA confab
IBM, MIT, plenty of others invited to fill Uncle Sam's spy toolchest, but where's Google?
Famous 'Dish' radio telescope to be emptied in budget crisis: CSIRO
Radio astronomy suffering to protect Square Kilometre Array
Bad back? Show some spine and stop popping paracetamol
Study finds common pain-killer doesn't reduce pain or shorten recovery
Forty-five years ago: FOOTPRINTS FOUND ON MOON
NASA won't be back any time soon, sadly
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Application security programs and practises
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
Securing Web Applications Made Simple and Scalable
Learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.