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Robot could be used to scout or send stranded climbers supplies

While it weighs just a little over a kilogram (~2.2 lb), the newly minted wall-climbing robot exhibits Spiderman-like strength, hauling a load of 7 kilograms (15.4 lb) up steep surfaces.  

Created by researchers at the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich (ETH Zürich) -- known abroad as the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology -- the climber bucks the trend of past designs that used gecko-like high-surface-area attractions (via tiny synthetic hair-like setae) to stick to the wall.  Instead, the robot uses a unique tacky adhesive.

The adhesive is heated by resistors to melt, with a melting temperature of 70 degrees Celsius (158 degrees Fahrenheit).  Beyond that point it becomes a liquid, but remains tacky.  The tacky adhesive penetrates cracks and crevices, fixing the robot to the surface.  But when allowed to cool it recedes, freeing the robot foot to take another step.


The resulting climber has tremendous potential for use in mountain or mining rescue operations, either carrying imaging and audio equipment to hunt for lost hikers, or transporting supplies to hikers in difficult to reach areas.  Larger models with improved adhesives could eventually be used to haul down hikers off the cliff face, but even in its current form the bot has a lot of promise.

The robot could also see use hauling light materials in high rise construction, having been tested on wood, plastic, stone and aluminum.

Liyu Wang, one of the robot's designers, told New Scientist, "Our technology uses thermoplastic adhesives, which are much stronger than those used in gecko-type climbing systems.  We are thinking about using this to climb cliffs or other complex natural environments, which no previous climbing technologies can handle."

A paper on the bot was published last month in the peer-reviewed journal IEEE Transactions on Robotics.

Sources: IEEE Transactions on Robotics, New Scientist





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