Have you ever wanted to be able to climb vertical surfaces? I remember watching Spiderman in the theatre and thinking wow, now that is cool. It appears as though I wasn’t the only person to have that desire. The people behind DARPA’s Z Man project must have had similar thoughts.
DARPA is well along in creating a climbing apparatus that will allow humans to scale smooth walls and objects without any risk of falling. The future use and safety implications of this invention is awesome.
The first tests of the new system are based upon the gecko and have been very successful. The large rectangular paddles, which make up the Z-Man system don’t look similar to a gecko’s foot, but they almost copy the same structure that gives a gecko its astonishing climbing ability. It is this ability that many have tried to replicate. The foot of the gecko does not secrete any kind of adhesive to accomplish the task of vertical climbing, but in atomic-scalephysics.
A foot of the gecko is covered with lots of tiny ridge structures called setae, which are only 100 micrometers long. Budding from each setae are hundreds of tiny projections called spatulae that are about 200 nano-meters in diameter. It is these hair-like structures that increase the surface area of the foot thereby allowing it to take advantage of van der Waals intermolecular forces. The van der Waals forces are the weak intermolecular interactions, which are weaker than ionic bonds or covalent. Basically, two atoms may have a slight charge imbalance. The result of this is a very mild attraction, but if you total the force across all those spatulae, the effect is very strong.
The material in the pads designed by DARPA was made using nanoscale fabrication techniques to replicate the physical structure of spatulae found in geckos. To be used effectively the paddles have to be moved individually and then carefully reset after each movement. The original materials were designed and created by Draper Laboratory of Cambridge, Mass.
Test prove that the use of the paddles is effective, with climbers scaling heights of 25 feet on a glass wall, some even weighted with 50bs backpacks. DARPA has been testing the Z-Man technology over the last couple of years and they are hoping to see it utilized by soldiers in the future.
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