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Gecko-Inspired Window Washing Robot is Powered Entirely by Water

This climbing robot washes windows with water, sticks with water, and even moves with water power

2 min read
Gecko-Inspired Window Washing Robot is Powered Entirely by Water

gecko-inspired climbing cleaning robot

Batteries and motors are heavy and inefficient in that they expend a significant percentage of their power just moving their own mass. This is especially apparent in climbing robots, which spend most of their time hoisting themselves vertically upward. Researchers from Zhejiang University in China have developed a robot that’s capable of sticking to smooth surfaces, climbing vertically, and washing windows, relying almost entirely on water pressure:

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.

The robot does currently use a very small battery to power the wireless communication system and to trip the servo to control the direction of motion, but it’s certainly possible that a small turbine could run all that stuff instead. The present design is able to lift twice its body weight in payload using just standard tap water pressure, and future versions might be able to conduct inspections, fight fires, paint, or even perform repairs.

This robot was presented in an ICRA paper entitled “A Gecko Inspired Fluid Driven Climbing Robot,” by Jilin Liu, Zhangqian Tong, Jinyuan Fu, Donghai Wang, Qi Su, and Jun Zou of the Institute of Mechatronic Control Engineering at Zhejiang University, China.

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The Bionic-Hand Arms Race

The prosthetics industry is too focused on high-tech limbs that are complicated, costly, and often impractical

12 min read
A photograph of a young woman with brown eyes and neck length hair dyed rose gold sits at a white table. In one hand she holds a carbon fiber robotic arm and hand. Her other arm ends near her elbow. Her short sleeve shirt has a pattern on it of illustrated hands.

The author, Britt Young, holding her Ottobock bebionic bionic arm.

Gabriela Hasbun. Makeup: Maria Nguyen for MAC cosmetics; Hair: Joan Laqui for Living Proof

In Jules Verne’s 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon, members of the fictitious Baltimore Gun Club, all disabled Civil War veterans, restlessly search for a new enemy to conquer. They had spent the war innovating new, deadlier weaponry. By the war’s end, with “not quite one arm between four persons, and exactly two legs between six,” these self-taught amputee-weaponsmiths decide to repurpose their skills toward a new projectile: a rocket ship.

The story of the Baltimore Gun Club propelling themselves to the moon is about the extraordinary masculine power of the veteran, who doesn’t simply “overcome” his disability; he derives power and ambition from it. Their “crutches, wooden legs, artificial arms, steel hooks, caoutchouc [rubber] jaws, silver craniums [and] platinum noses” don’t play leading roles in their personalities—they are merely tools on their bodies. These piecemeal men are unlikely crusaders of invention with an even more unlikely mission. And yet who better to design the next great leap in technology than men remade by technology themselves?

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