Gecko-inspired military gear creates molecular bonds to allow troops to scale walls

New technology allowed a 218-pound man wearing 50 pounds of gear to scale a 25-foot glass wall.
By Matt Bradwell  |  June 10, 2014 at 5:00 PM
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CAMBRIDGE, Mass., June 10 (UPI) -- The United States Department of Defense has developed new technology it hopes will allow soldiers to scale walls while carrying heavy equipment or weapons.

Inspired by a gecko foot's ability to generate a static attraction, the handheld paddles allowed a 218-pound man wearing 50 pounds of gear while he scaled a 25-foot glass wall during a demonstration. The technology was developed by the DARPA's Z-Man program, which develops new equipment for confined urban combat.

The military has long-struggled to balance the need for urban soldiers to maneuver vertically and the problems that arise when they are forced to transport a ladder into combat. The gecko's solution was the unique abundance of surface area on the pads of its feet.

So abundant is the surface area, it creates a weak intermolecular bond between the itself and what it touches, allowing the animal to support its weight as it quickly travels along a vertical axis. DARPA simply scaled up the ratios to support a human's size weight.

"The gecko is one of the champion climbers in the animal kingdom, so it was natural for [the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency] to look to it for inspiration in overcoming some of the manoeuvre challenges that U.S. forces face in urban environments," said Dr Matt Goodman, Z-Man program manager.

"Like many of the capabilities that the Department of Defence pursues, we saw with vertical climbing that nature had long since evolved the means to efficiently achieve it. The challenge to our performer team was to understand the biology and physics in play when geckos climb and then reverse-engineer those dynamics into an artificial system for use by humans."

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