Could a gecko help clean your windows?

January 30th, 2014 Category: Educational Establishments

New technology means that soon windows could be cleaned by geckos. Well, not the real kind, but robotic ones that have been specifically designed to scale walls. These clever little machines could clean skyscraper windows in the future.
A prototype robot that has the ability to move like a gecko is said to be able to stick to surfaces in low temperatures by means of a dry type of glue. This enables the little machine to crawl sideways in cold conditions without a fear of falling – unlike a regular window cleaner!

The technology combines a sticky silicone compound with a chemical energy, known as the Van der Waals force. Real geckos use this in nature to allow them to climb walls.

According the European Cleaning Journal, Jeff Krahn, one of the researchers working on the project, said: "The adhesive pads on geckos use a large number of fibres, each with a very small tip.

"The more fibres a gecko has in contact, the greater attachment force it has on a surface."

The gecko-bot has been developed by the European Space Agency and electrical engineers at Simon Fraser University in Canada. The prototype is able climb at speeds of up to 3.4 centimetres a second and it is equipped with a computer brain that allows it to act autonomously. 

Its creators claim one of the major advantages of the new adhesive is the fact that unlike other forms, such as normal glue, it leaves no sticky residue behind. This makes it ideal for window cleaning, according to the developers.

The gecko robot has many more potential uses, such as undertaking tasks that are considered too dangerous for humans. The machine could be employed to inspect nuclear power plants or it could perform search-and-rescue missions in collapsed buildings.

Since a gecko’s foot – or anything else operating under the Van der Waals force – can theoretically stick just as easily to the surface of the International Space Station as it could to a standard wall, these robot creatures may also be used in space to repair satellites.