[caption id="attachment_77056" align="aligncenter" width="600"] A six-legged climbing robot can go from vertical to horizontal surfaces. It clings to walls using a gecko-inspired dry adhesive technology. (Simon Fraser University)
[/caption]Space Geckos May One Day Perform Maintenance on Space Ships
The European Space Agency has funded a project to create small robots that will be able to walk on surfaces making use of the physical phenomenon known as Van der Waals force, reports the LA Times.
Van der Waals force is the attraction that occurs between atoms in close contact. It provides a dry adhesion that would allow the robot to climb walls, glass, and other structures and perhaps someday perform maintenance that will extend the longevity of space vessels.
For those less familiar with Van der Waals force, it bears mentioning that it is exactly how the reptiles known as geckos are able to scale trees and buildings. Their feet contain clusters of hairs which are exceedingly thin on the order of 100 to 200 nanometers (billionths of a meter). Put another way, their hairs on their feet are about as thick as bacteria. In close contact with the atoms of the surface they touch, an adhesion occurs which is what allows them to walk on walls.
[caption id="attachment_77058" align="aligncenter" width="620"] The Abigaille wall-crawler robot, designed by Simon Fraser University engineers, is able to climb surfaces using an adhesive that mimics the footpads of gecko lizards. (European Space Agency)
The research is being conducted at Canada's Simon Fraser University. An engineer on the project stated that what allows a gecko's feet to stick to the walls, as opposed to human hands and feet, are the ultra-thin hairs which fill the gaps between atoms on the feet and wall and allow Van de Waals force to kick in.
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Space geckos? Sticky-footed robots could climb future spacecraft