Sticky Feet

Starting a climb? Use your MUSSELS!

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

We have robots that can build things, wait tables, even play the violin! But what about robots that can climb walls like Spiderman?

Junwen Huang and a team from Xiamen University in China made one! Their secret ingredient? A sticky solution secreted by mussels!

These shellfish use a substance called DOPA to cling to rocky shorelines. The team built a robot and coated its feet with a gel that contained DOPA. However, the DOPA needed some stimulation to properly bond to surfaces. 

The key? Electricity! The team applied a mild shock to the robot’s feet, allowing it to stick to a stainless steel surface. This way, the robots could climb up walls and even walk upside down! 

Rainy day? No problem! The gel also sticks to wet surfaces! This could allow underwater vehicles to anchor to submarines and ship hulls! 

So when you need to make a quick escape, rest assured — Our sticky robot overlords have you covered!

Reference: Huang, J., Liu, Y., Yang, Y., Zhou, Z., Mao, J., Wu, T., Liu, J., Cai, Q., Peng, C., Xu, Y., Zeng, B., Luo, W., Chen, G., Yuan, C., & Dai, L. (2021). Electrically programmable adhesive hydrogels for climbing robots. Science Robotics, 6(53), eabe1858.