Research

Watery Suction Enables Spiderman-Like Climbing

With the help of a new water-assisted suction device, humans can climb rough walls like this concrete.

Spiderman makes it look easy, but sticking to surfaces with enough force to climb them is a challenge at the human scale. These researchers tackled the problem with a new method of suction. Traditional suction devices are limited by their ability to seal at the edges. Any surface roughness that prevents a perfect seal creates a leak and fighting those leaks to maintain vacuum pressure requires larger and more powerful pumps.

In this work, the researchers essentially eschew a solid sealing mechanism for a liquid one. A fan inside each suction cup creates a spinning ring of water along the seal’s boundary that allows it to conform even to very rough surfaces without losing vacuum pressure. The researchers demonstrate the principle in action with a hexapod wall-climbing robot as well as with human-scale climbing systems.

But don’t plan your web-slinging adventures just yet! As you can see on the concrete wall example, the system leaks a lot of water, especially when disengaging the suction. Right now, you can only climb as far as your water supply allows. (Image and research credit: K. Shi and X. Li; via Spectrum; submitted by Kam-Yung Soh)

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