Scientists at Germany’s Leibniz Institute for New Materials (INM) have developed a new material that helps grip objects through its adhesion properties – and can be turned off and on as desired.
This material comes as a welcome update for manufacturing industry which needs gripping aid for fragile objects. Machines employ graspers or suction cups for this purpose, but these can damage fragile items. The gecko-feet mimicking material can possibly handle these with care.
Gecko’s feet have microscopic hair-like projections (setae) which give them their sticking quality. Setae bond with surfaces by creaying Van der Waals forces, which can be broken when desired.
INM team has created artificial setae of sorts, microscopic pillars that can bond with different kinds of surfaces. The adhesion is turned off by an electronic alteration in the pillar’s structure, allowing removal of the picking tool. This way, the material wins the cleanest for of adhesion too.
Researchers are still working on improving the adhesion quality to make it usable with heavier objects as well, and working with external triggers such as light, magnetic fields and temperature changes to switch that adhesion on and off.