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Wall-climbing robot inspired by a gecko

AFP-JIJI

A wall-crawling robot inspired by the gecko has taken a small but important step toward a future in space, scientists said earlier this month.

The tiny legged prototype could be the forerunner of automatons that crawl along the hulls of spacecraft, cleaning and maintaining them, the European Space Agency (ESA) said. Its footpads are covered with dry microfibers modeled on the toe hair of the gecko, which is celebrated for its ability to scuttle up windows and along walls yet not leave a trace.

The lizard does the trick through millions of ultrafine hairs called setae, which interact with the climbing surface to create a molecular attraction known as the van der Waals force.

Researchers at Canada’s Simon Fraser University first built a 240-gram tanklike gecko-bot, using tracks with microfiber treads.

They then developed this into a six-legged climbing robot, nicknamed Abigaille.

The “dry adhesive” that helps Abigaille climb walls has been put through its paces at a materials-testing lab at ESA’s European Space and Technology Center in Noordwijk, the Netherlands. Replicating the vacuum and temperatures of space, but not the zero gravity, the tests found that the adhesive worked like a charm, the agency said.

“A depth-sensing indentation instrument was used inside a vacuum chamber to precisely assess the dry adhesive’s sticking performance,” ESA specialist Laurent Pambaguian said. “Experimental success means deployment in space might one day be possible.”