Robot uses heated 'sticky feet' to climb vertical surfaces

May 8, 2013 at 6:38 PM
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ZURICH, Switzerland, May 8 (UPI) -- Swiss researchers say they've created a sticky-footed robot that can climb rocky cliff faces while carrying five times its own weight.

Developed at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, the robot has footpads that heat rapidly to soften plastic compounds that flow into the nooks and crannies of a surface, allowing the footpads to stick.

Rapid cooling of the trailing foot pad allows the robot to disengage or "un-stick" it and move it forward to take its next step, reported Tuesday.

Previous climbing robots have been small, lightweight machines with tiny hairs called setae on their footpads that stick them to walls in the same manner geckos do.

But setae create only weak bonds that cannot support heavy robots, the researchers said.

"Our technology uses thermoplastic adhesives, which are much stronger than those used in gecko-type climbing systems," engineer Liyu Wang said.

In tests, a two-footed droid weighing a little more than 2 pounds carried a 15-pound weight up walls made of wood, plastic, stone and aluminum, the researchers said.

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