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These Gecko Gloves Can (Kind of) Turn You Into Spider-Man

If you were upset at the news that Spider-Man is an impossible dream, don’t despair. A set of gecko gloves created by a Stanford researcher make the ability possible once more.


Earlier this month, University of Cambridge zoologist David Labonte pointed out that geckos are the largest animals able to maneuver along vertical walls because of scaling limitations as animal body size increases. That may be the case for purely biological creatures, but humans have a technology card to play—and Elliot Hawkes from Stanford just played it.

In a YouTube video, Hawkes points out that he and his Stanford colleagues “have an issue” with the claims about Spider-Man not being plausible. His device, first created back in 2014, uses a series of 24 adhesive tiles, each covered with a sawtooth-shape polymer. Individually those structures are just 100 micrometers long, but cover an entire surface with them and you’re in Spidey-like business.

At first contact, just the tips of those shapes touch the wall. But apply a load and the wedges collapse, putting the entire surface in contact and in turn generating huge quantities of friction. Remove the force and the friction disappears, allowing you to move the glove. That provides the ability for someone to—admittedly slowly and carefully—climb a wall. One in the eye for nature, perhaps, though it still requires technology rather than some clever biological mutation.


The current version of the device is apparently able to support about 200 pounds, but in theory it could, according to Hawkes, be scaled up to support 2,000 pounds. That’s a pretty big Spider-Man.


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I think the one of the lessons to take away here is that nature doesn’t always have the best solution to things. Mimicking nature can teach us a lot of novel ways to do things but it doesn’t aways have all the answers.