Design Engineering

Gecko-inspired tank robot climbs walls (video)

By Design Engineering Staff   

General Simon Fraser University

Simon Fraser University researchers’ dry adhesive nano-tech leverages van der Waals forces to scale smooth surfaces.

Burnaby, BC –- Researchers at Simon Fraser University have developed a tank-like robot that can climb smooth walls without the use of adhesives or magnets. Drawing inspiration from the gecko, the researchers have been able to create adhesives that carefully mimic the toe pads of the lizard that give it the ability to climb smooth vertical surfaces and shuffle across ceilings.

These dry, but sticky toe pads, also known as dry fibrillar adhesives, were recreated in the lab using polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) and were 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 maximized,” said lead author, researcher Jeff Krahn.

“The adhesive pads on geckos follow this same principle by utilizing 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.”


The 240g robot – aka, the Timeless Belt Climbing Platform (TBCP-II) — is capable of reliably transferring from a flat surface to a wall over both inside and outside corners at speeds of up to 3.4cm/s. TBCP-II is also fitted with a multitude of sensors that are able to detect the surroundings of the robot and change its course of action accordingly.

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

The Simon Fraser team’s study was published in the November 1st edition of Smart Materials and Structures.


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