Gecko-Inspired Robot Powered by Water, Scales Glass Surfaces (Video)
Image via YouTube Video
Geckos have been the inspiration for many biomimicry projects, from better glues to velcros. The way the critters are able to stick to surfaces is incredible, and researchers have worked to duplicate this on different levels. Now, researchers from Zhejiang University in China have created a robot powered by water that can scale glass surfaces, moving -- and sticking -- like a gecko. According to IEEE Spectrum, this robot can stick to smooth surfaces like glass, and it uses water pressure to keep climbing. It only needs a small battery pack for the wireless communication that allows a human to direct where it climbs. Thanks to the way it is designed, it can carry twice it's weight and may eventually be used for tasks like firefighting or conducting inspections.
To function, the robot gets connected to a faucet with a loop (a really long loop, if necessary) of hose. As water flows through the hose, its pressure accomplishes several things. First, the water passes through fluidic vacuum generators, which use that same Bernoulli principle that those supersonic jet grippers take advantage of to turn the motion of a fluid into a vacuum. This allows the bot's feet to stick to any smooth surface.
Then, the water is routed through a solenoid valve to a piston that's attached to the "spine" of the robot. The inspiration for this design was the gecko, arguably the best wall-climber in existence, and the upshot of it is that the robot can climb relatively quickly (constrained only by the time it takes to establish a solid vacuum) and turn in either direction with just one single spinal actuator. And of course lastly, the water is squirted out at the end of the robot's arm to do the actual washing.
We're not entirely thrilled that it requires water, an already scare resource, to power itself up a wall. However, we do love the biomimicry used in creating its movement. Here is a video of the robot in action:
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