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Hey, it's ... Gecko man, Gecko man, does almost whatever a GECKO can

Stanford student climbs sheet of glass with lizard-tech gloves – Special Forces next?

Vid A graduate student at Stanford has successfully climbed a 3.7-metre glass wall using a pair of super-sticky gloves modeled on the feet of gecko lizards.

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The kit was developed at the California university with funding from Uncle Sam's boffinry headquarters DARPA. The gloves are covered with 24 little sticky pads – a total area of 140cm2 – to distribute the load, and are connected to foot rests. It manages to support the entire weight of a 70kg (11 stone) student.

"We tested the maximum load for the system five times, finding an average of 95.6 kg (938 N) and a standard deviation of 2.7 kg (26 N)," states an academic paper published in the Royal Society journal Interface about the tech.

"We found that the compressive force required to preload the device before loading is small (less than 1 N) and that the force required to release the device after unloading is also small (less than 2 N). Thus, the system retains the property of controllability from the adhesive material."

The pads are made of polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS), and are designed as slanted microwedges roughly 100 micrometers tall that mimic a gecko's ability to harness van der Waals forces – the sum of the attraction or repulsion forces between a material's molecules – to climb almost any surface.

By using lots of small panels instead of one big one the researchers were able to get maximum grip strength from the minimum surface area of the gloves. If they'd gone with one large pad, they estimate that the size of the gloves would need to be 1,200cm2, and the panels had to be rigid to get maximum adhesion.

As you can see from the video, the climbing ability of the student is hardly of superhero speed – each glove has to be carefully positioned and, once anchored, it's the foot rests attached to the gloves that make the climbing possible. It's, essentially, a proof of concept.

The gloves were developed as part of DARPA's Z-Man program, which seeks to find ways for combat soldiers carrying a full weapons load to scale walls and buildings without heavy and noisy climbing equipment. ®

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