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Gecko-Tech Device Creates Real Life Spiderman

Jun 10, 2014 03:52 PM EDT

It seems that superpowers aren't just for comic book heroes. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has created a pair of paddles that replicate Spiderman's wall-climbing abilities, a device that could allow US troops to do the same.

While many associate the ability to scale walls with the Marvel hero, DARPA officials were actually inspired by geckos.

Their Z-Man program has demonstrated that, much like a gecko, a 218-pound man carrying a 50-pound load could climb a 25-foot vertical glass wall without ropes or hooks. The novel polymer microstructure technology used in those paddles was developed for DARPA by Draper Laboratory of Cambridge, Mass.

Z-Man looks to nature for inspiration in improving the safety and effectiveness of how warfighters navigate urban environments in combat.

"Historically, gaining the high ground has always been an operational advantage for warfighters, but the climbing instruments on which they're frequently forced to rely - tools such as ropes and ladders - have not advanced significantly for millennia," according to a DARPA news release.

In the animal world, geckos come already equipped with sticky feet, making them some of nature's best climbers. Their appendages are covered in hundreds of microscopic bristles, each topped off with a patch of even smaller fibers called spatulae. This enables them to stick to any surface, Live Science reported.

"The gecko is one of the champion climbers in the Animal Kingdom, so it was natural for DARPA to look to it for inspiration in overcoming some of the maneuver challenges that U.S. forces face in urban environments," said Matt Goodman, the DARPA program manager for Z-Man, in the news release.

The paddles developed by researchers for the Z-Man program don't stick and unstick quite as seamlessly as gecko feet, DARPA officials said. First off, the average man weighs about 375 times more than a gecko. To account for this weight disparity, climbers using the gecko-tech device push both up and away from the climbing surface.

The first successful climb was in Feb. 2012, but tests are still ongoing.

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