One creature that roams the planet that has been the subject of great research is the gecko. The feet of the gecko have a natural adhesion property that allows the gecko to grip virtually any surface. Researchers have been able to emulate the stickiness of gecko using strips of rubbery material able to pick up and release objects, but mass production has been out of reach.
Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have developed a new method of making gecko-inspired adhesive materials that is more cost-effective than current methods. The new discovery could enable mass production and the introduction of strips based on gecko adhesive to manufacturing and consumers. Researchers say the polymer is made with gecko adhesion surfaces that could be used make extremely versatile grippers able to pick up a variety of objects on the same assembly line.
The adhesive materials could also be used to make hanging pictures easier, adhering to the picture in the wall at the same time. Scientists also believe that robots with gecko he may someday be able to move up tall buildings cleaning façades as they go. Researcher Michael Varenberg says that the gecko adhesives will adhere to anything, other than items like Teflon.
Researchers say that there is a clear advantage to grippers using gecko adhesion and manufacturing because the gripper doesn’t have to be prepared for specific surfaces before being able to lift them. The adhesive would be able to lift flat objects like boxes and curved objects like eggs and vegetables on the same line. Current assembly line grippers use items like clamps, magnets, and suction cups but are only able to lift a limited range of objects.
Gecko-inspired grippers are dry and contain no glue or gooey substances and could replace many grippers while filling gaps in capability left by other gripping mechanisms. Materials were made by pouring ingredients onto a template, allowing the mixture to react and set to a flexible polymer, and then removing it from the mold. The new method created by the researchers pours ingredients onto a smooth surface instead of a mold allowing the polymer to partially set and then dipping rows of laboratory razor blades into it as the material sets a little more around the blades are then removed leaving behind micron-scale indentions surrounded by the desired walls. There is no indication of when the material might be commercialized.