NASA works on the next generation space robots called LEMUR (Limbed Excursion Mechanical Utility Robot). Took 1 case of Budweiser to come up with this acronym.
Researchers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, are working on the ultimate system of stickiness, inspired by geckos. The sticky technology can enable robots to work outside of spacecrafts. Exactly what we have seen in many sci-fi movies already.
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Thanks to tiny hairs on the bottom of geckos' feet, these lizards can cling to walls with ease, and their stickiness doesn't wear off with repeated usage.
JPL engineer Aaron Parness and colleagues used that concept to create a material with synthetic hairs that are much thinner than a human hair. When a force is applied to make the tiny hairs bend, that makes the material stick to a desired surface.
"This is how the gecko does it, by weighting its feet," Parness said.
Behind this phenomenon is a concept called van der Waals forces. A slight electrical field is created because electrons orbiting the nuclei of atoms are not evenly spaced, so there are positive and negative sides to a neutral molecule. The positively charged part of a molecule attracts the negatively charged part of its neighbor, resulting in "stickiness." Even in extreme temperature, pressure and radiation conditions, these forces persist.
"The grippers don't leave any residue and don't require a mating surface on the wall the way Velcro would," Parness said.
The newest generation of grippers can support more than 150 Newtons of force, the equivalent of 35 pounds (16 kilograms).
Parness and his team are also testing the Lemur 3 climbing robot, which has gecko-gripper feet, in simulated microgravity environments. The team thinks possible applications could be to have robots like this on the space station conducting inspections and making repairs on the exterior. For testing, the robot maneuvers across mock-up solar and radiator panels to emulate that environment.
There are numerous applications beyond the space station for this technology.
"We might eventually grab satellites to repair them, service them, and we also could grab space garbage and try to clear it out of the way," Parness said.
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Via the NASA JPL News site.