Researchers from the European Space Agency (ESA) and Canada’s Simon Fraser University have teamed up to create a wall-crawling robot. The repair bot, named Abigaille, is designed to mimic a gecko lizard’s wall-crawling ability and is being designed to make repairs on spacecraft without the need for a human space walk.
The approach, in robotics, is called ‘biomimicry’. In this case researchers set out to mimic the sticky feet of the gecko. The lizards feet are covered with tiny hairs roughly 100–200 nanometres, roughly 1/100,000th of a centimeter, across. According to Michael Henrey of Simon Fraser University:
“We’ve borrowed techniques from the microelectronics industry to make our own footpad terminators. Technical limitations mean these are around 100 times larger than a gecko’s hairs, but they are sufficient to support our robot’s weight.”
According to Henrey, Abigaille is very dexterous. It has six legs which can bend in four directions so it can quickly adjust to horizontal or vertical surfaces and move around and over obstacles. At the moment the robot is limited to relatively smooth surfaces but, according to the ESA, ongoing research could expand the surfaces that Abigalle can handle.
It is easy to see a wide variety of uses for a repair bot that can climb. Beyond space exploration, such robots could prove useful in high risk industries such as nuclear power. They could be used for minor repairs around dangerous chemicals, in extreme temperatures, in tight, hard to reach spaces and could provide new capabilities to robots such as the Mars Rover.