In the Fall 2015 issue of E&S, we examined how the tiny hairs on gecko feet exploit attractive forces—called van der Waals forces —between temporary electric dipoles to create adhesion.
We also noted that JPL engineer Aaron Parness and colleagues have used that concept to create a material made of synthetic hairs much thinner than a human hair. They hope to use the material to develop a gecko-inspired gripping technology to manipulate objects in space. A four-minute video, Crazy Engineering: Gecko Gripper, highlights some of their work—as well as some charming geckos.
In addition, JPL recently posted an artist’s conception of a project in progress—a creation called LEMUR (Limbed Excursion Mechanical Utility Robot) that might one day use Parness’s technology to inspect and maintain installations on the International Space Station.