Climbing Robot Squirts Honey On Its Feet For Sticking Power

Pretty sweet: this climbing robot uses a mixture of honey and water to help it stick to glass

1 min read
Climbing Robot Squirts Honey On Its Feet For Sticking Power

We've seen robots use a staggering variety of different techniques to climb things, and some of the most elegant (if not necessarily the most successful) are inspired by biology. Stanford's Stickybot is a good example of this, using nanoscale adhesive pads modeled on gecko feet to cling to smooth surfaces. But there are other animals that can stick to things even better than geckos can: our friends (and occasional enemies), the insects.

Insects climb in a couple different ways. On rough surfaces, they usually rely on small claws (kinda like Spinybot), but on smooth surfaces, some insects secrete an oily fluid to help turn pads on their feet into little suction cups of a sort. Minghe Li, a roboticist at Tongji University in Shanghai, has created a climbing robot that mimics this capability using pliable silicon feet that squirt out a mixture of honey and water onto the climbing surface.

It only takes a very little bit of liquid for the feet to stick, and while the robot currently can't climb slopes past 75 degrees, this method may ultimately prove to be as effective as the gecko-type sticky foot on smooth surfaces and more effective on rough or wet surfaces, which the gecko adhesive has trouble with. Also, making artificial gecko feet is tricky and expensive, while making honey just involves being nice to bees.

Li is currently adapting his robot's feet to better emulate those of insects to try to improve its climbing effectiveness. He's also, I imagine, looking for a way to clean up the sticky little footprints that are undoubtedly all over his lab.

Via [ New Scientist ]

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Robot with threads near a fallen branch

RoMan, the Army Research Laboratory's robotic manipulator, considers the best way to grasp and move a tree branch at the Adelphi Laboratory Center, in Maryland.

Evan Ackerman

This article is part of our special report on AI, “The Great AI Reckoning.

"I should probably not be standing this close," I think to myself, as the robot slowly approaches a large tree branch on the floor in front of me. It's not the size of the branch that makes me nervous—it's that the robot is operating autonomously, and that while I know what it's supposed to do, I'm not entirely sure what it will do. If everything works the way the roboticists at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL) in Adelphi, Md., expect, the robot will identify the branch, grasp it, and drag it out of the way. These folks know what they're doing, but I've spent enough time around robots that I take a small step backwards anyway.

The robot, named RoMan, for Robotic Manipulator, is about the size of a large lawn mower, with a tracked base that helps it handle most kinds of terrain. At the front, it has a squat torso equipped with cameras and depth sensors, as well as a pair of arms that were harvested from a prototype disaster-response robot originally developed at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory for a DARPA robotics competition. RoMan's job today is roadway clearing, a multistep task that ARL wants the robot to complete as autonomously as possible. Instead of instructing the robot to grasp specific objects in specific ways and move them to specific places, the operators tell RoMan to "go clear a path." It's then up to the robot to make all the decisions necessary to achieve that objective.

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