Researchers in Switzerland are currently working on an interesting new robot that uses melting plastic feet to adhere to vertical surfaces. The robot is designed with special footpads that heat rapidly allowing plastic compounds to melt and ooze into the surface that the bot needs to climb. Molded plastic feet may not sound particularly strong, but strong they are.
According to the team working on the robot, the melting plastic feet offer enough sticking forced to allow the robot to scale a vertical cliff face carrying five times its own mass. The idea is that robots of this type could be used to act as a scout for mountain rescue or to help construction crews working on multistory buildings.
While the rapid heating of the plastic footpads allows the robot to stick to vertical surfaces, those same footpads are then rapidly cooled to allow them to release. The robot is being created by researcher Fumiya Lida and colleagues at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zürich.
The researchers say that the plastic on the robot feet melt at approximately 70-degrees Celsius. Above that temperature the surface of the robot feet are fluidic with a high degree of stickiness. The team uses resistors to heat the material above that 70-degree threshold. To cool the feet back down, the robot uses thermoelectric effect to allow the foot to release again. The researchers have built a test robot that was able to carry a 7 kg weight up walls made of plastic, wood, stone, and aluminum.