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Posted: Mar 02, 2012
Here comes Z-Man!
(Nanowerk News) The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)'s "Z-Man program" aims to develop biologically inspired climbing aids to enable soldiers to scale vertical walls constructed from typical building materials, while carrying a full combat load, and without the use of ropes or ladders.
Soldiers operate in all manner of environments, including tight urban terrain. Their safety and effectiveness demand maximum flexibility for maneuvering and responding to circumstances. To overcome obstacles and secure entrance and egress routes, soldiers frequently rely on ropes, ladders and related climbing tools. Such climbing tools cost valuable time to use, have limited application and add to the load warfighters are forced to carry during missions.
Geckos, spiders and small animals are the inspiration behind the Z-Man program. These creatures scale vertical surfaces using unique systems that exhibit strong reversible adhesion via van der Waals forces or hook-into-surface asperities. Z-Man seeks to build synthetic versions of these biological systems, optimize them for efficient human climbing and use them as novel climbing aids.
"Geckskin" is one output of the Z-Man program. It is a synthetically-fabricated reversible adhesive inspired by the gecko's ability to climb surfaces of various materials and roughness, including smooth surfaces like glass. Performers on Z-Man designed adhesive pads to mimic the gecko foot over multiple length scales, from the macroscopic foot tendons to the microscopic setae and spatulae, to maximize reversible van der Waals interactions with the surface.
Recent activities include:
Fabrication of Geckskin (stiff fabric impregnated with an elastomer) that "drapes" over a surface to maximize compliance with the surface while reducing compliance in the load direction, thus enabling increased adhesion.
A proof-of-concept demonstration of a 16-square-inch sheet of Geckskin adhering to a vertical glass wall while supporting a static load of up to 660 pounds: