A team of researchers at Stanford has developed a technique to scale glass walls using pads that can be attached to a person’s hands.
This research team is part of Stanford’s Biomimetics and Dexterous Manipulation Laboratory. This is the same research group that had previously created vertically climbing robots.
To find a way to scale the glass walls, the Stanford team got inspired from the design of the gecko lizard, which is able to climb up a variety of surfaces using what are known as van der Waals forces. These forces were created by the team using hexagon-shaped pads that were about the size of ping-pong paddles.
The team had covered these paddles in tiny tiles made from polydimethylsiloxane, which is a silicon material that is commonly found in water-repellant coatings. The material itself isn’t actually sticky like tape or glue. So, the mechanism that is implied here is that just like gecko’s toes, the tiles have tiny nanofibers that make the pads strong enough to cling to glass surfaces. Flexible springs behind the tiles help to distribute the weight evenly.
The pads are attached by cables to solid platforms for each foot, so that as the climber reaches up he also brings his foot.
Elliot Hawkes, an engineering graduate student who volunteered to take the climb, said the sensation felt more like climbing with hooks than sticky tape. He said the adhesive tiles are able to attach and detach in just seconds and the speed of movement is limited by the climber’s posture, not the adhesives.
Hawkes could easily scale a glass wall, and the scientists have calculated that the gloves could be used by anyone up to around 200 lbs.
All the details related to this finding of the Stanford team have been published in this week’s Journal of the Royal Society.