The technology will actually come from Geckos. The tiny, 5-ounce lizard can scale a wall carrying 9 pounds of weight — a whopping 18 times its body weight.
People assume geckos achieve their climbing capabilities through suction cups on their feet or by secreting a sticky goo. Instead the stick is achieved by millions of tiny hairs on the soles of the gecko’s feet. These hairs keep its toes in contact with the surface, creating molecular forces of attraction.
Each hair has a mushroom-shaped cap less than one-thousandth of a millimeter across at the tip; the attractive force for a single hair may be miniscule, but multiply it by the millions of hairs found on each foot and you get solid footing, straight up a wall.
BAE is the company that has been successful in closely mimicking the gecko. Their material has polymer layers comprised of thousands of microscopic stalks with splayed tips like the gecko hairs. When the material’s ability to stick to glass was tested, the result was a pull-off force of 3,000 kg per square meter.
Put BAE’s material on the palms of human hands and it’s strong enough to support a person’s weight. If you went bigger and used a T-shirt made of the material, it could hold the weight of a family car.
But the research has taken a different turn, creating Geckskin. It looks like a 16-inch square of rubber-coated fabric. It doesn’t feel sticky yet it can be used to climb supersmooth surfaces, even glass. It relies on the Van Der Waals force, which describes the attraction between molecules on the two surfaces, and can hold a maximum force of nearly 700 pounds while sticking to a vertical surface.
Geckskin has already been fabricated and demonstrated with a 16-square inch sheet sticking to a vertical glass wall and holding 660 pounds.