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Behold: The Gecko-robot wall-climbing tank!

Does whatever a spider-pig (lizard) can

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Vid Boffins have taken their inspiration from the gecko to develop a tank robot that can scale completely smooth walls and shuffle along ceilings.

Researchers from Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada, looked at the little sticky pads on the toes of geckos and recreated the van der Waals forces - very weak, attractive forces that occur between molecules - to get their tiny tank making like Spider-Man.

The toe pads, which are dry and sticky, were recreated in the lab using the material polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) and manufactured to contain very small mushroom cap shapes that were 17 micrometres wide and 10 micrometres high.

"While van der Waals forces are considered to be relatively weak, the thin, flexible overhang provided by the mushroom cap ensures that the area of contact between the robot and the surface is maximised," said lead researcher Jeff Krahn.

"The adhesive pads on geckos follow this same principle by utilising a large number of fibres, each with a very small tip. The more fibres a gecko has in contact, the greater attachment force it has on a surface."

Their study, published today in Smart Materials and Structures, offers an alternative to magnets, suction cups, spines and claws that boffins have stuck onto robots trying, and often failing, to get them up and down smooth surfaces like glass and plastic.

The researchers made it a tank-like robot so that it would have a simplified mechanical design and could be easily expanded if you need to increase the load the robot is carrying.

"With an adequate power supply, our robot is capable of functioning fairly independently when it encounters larger-scale objects such as boxes or walls. However, we are still developing a control strategy to ensure the robot is capable of fully autonomous functionality," Krahn said.

A video of their efforts is below. ®

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