NANOTECHNOLOGY ‘Gecko Tech’ Lets Humans Climb Like Spider-Man

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An operator climbed 25 feet vertically on a glass surface using no climbing equipment other than a pair of hand-held, gecko-inspired paddles. The climber wore, but did not require, the use of a safety belay.

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The Laotian Giant Flying Squirrel,

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Griffin’s Leaf-Nosed Bat,

3-mekong-tailorbird

The Cambodian Tailorbird,

Scaling the side of a building without a harness or rope might sound like something only James Bond or Spider-Man can do, but the U.S. Department of Defense has developed a set of sticky handheld paddles that could help soldiers climb up walls.

The paddles are inspired by gecko feet, and during a climbing demonstration this month, they supported a 218-lb. (99 kilograms) man carrying a 50-lb. (23 kg) pack while he scaled a 25-foot-high (7.6 meters) glass wall.

The paddles were developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) Z-Man program, a U.S. military program that creates new technologies designed to improve the safety and effectiveness of soldiers fighting in tight urban areas.

One of the essentials for urban soldiers is maneuverability. Gaining the higher ground is a tactical advantage in urban fighting, so soldiers often need to scale buildings and other objects. Toting ropes and ladders slows down a platoon, and the climber who takes the lead is often put in danger, DARPA officials said. [Biomimicry: 7 Clever Technologies Inspired by Nature]

In the animal kingdom, geckos have already inspired technology like medical adhesives that can seal wounds, and now researchers are studying these lizards’ natural climbing ability.

“The gecko is one of the champion climbers in the animal kingdom, so it was natural for DARPA to look to it for inspiration in overcoming some of the maneuver challenges that U.S. forces face in urban environments,” Matt Goodman, the program manager for Z-Man, said in a statement. “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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