It seems that adhesive tools that astronauts have at their disposal are a little outdated. If we think that these include duct tape, velcro or our every-day glue, the brightest minds behind the engineering projects developed in the Jet Propulsion Laboratory might be right.
What did they think of as a solution? Geckos and their incredible capability to rapidly climb the most slippery of surfaces, hang upside down or sneak upon us from the strangest of angles.
As such, the engineers set out to build gecko-inspired grabbers, that function using the same forces harnessed by their real-life peers: van der Waals forces.
Geckos make use of the thousands of short hairs present on their feet. The van der Waals forces allow these to manipulate electrical fields by forming negative and positive sides of the same molecule due to the spacing of electrons orbiting atoms. The temporary negativity and positivity thus created results in the ‘sticky’ effect, which is not that sticky after all.
Geckos to not hold the secret to some super glue. It’s all in the science of van der Waals forces, harnessed by the engineers of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory to develop a new generation of exploratory space robots and space-usable adhesive.
Aaron Parness, engineer with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory applied the gecko-inspired technology to create grapplers that are capable to grip with 150 Newtons of force. If you take a look at the Crazy Engineering video, you will see the technology tested.
The grapplers were able not only to climb vertical walls and hang upside down, just as geckos do. They were also tested in a zero-gravity environment where they attached to and manipulated a 10 kg cube and also lifted and pushed around a 100 kg person.
The technology is still in testing phase. Nonetheless, after 30,000 repetitions of stick and unstick procedures, it did not lose efficiency.
Dreaming of the not so far away day when the gecko-inspired technology will be made available on the International Space Station and not only, Aaron Parness is thinking of the grapplers’ applicability.
And it’s no small talk either. The new generation of gecko-inspired sticky bots could be sent out to fix faulty satellites or clear space debris.
Photo Credits: nsf.gov