Engineers at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) have finished an advanced prototype of a device called Z-Man. Inspired by the gecko’s ability to stick to surfaces, Z-Man will allow soldiers to scale walls quickly — like a real-life Spider-Man.
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” was one output of the Z-Man program. It was a synthetically fabricated reversible adhesive inspired by the gecko’s ability to climb surfaces of various materials and roughness, including smooth surfaces like glass. Geckskin was a stiff fabric impregnated with an elastomer that “draped” 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 in 2012 showed that a 16-square-inch sheet of Geckskin adhering to a vertical glass wall could support a static load of up to 660 pounds.