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'Stickybot' can walk up a pane of glass

Palo Alto, Calif. -- Scaling vertical surfaces like Spider-Man could one day be a reality as new advances learn to mimic nature's best climbers, researchers say.

Scientists at Stanford University said sticky gloves and shoes are being developed that could allow wearers to stick to and climb up vertical walls, Britain's Daily Telegraph reported Thursday.

Stanford researchers Paul Day and Alan Asbeck have already come up with a new fabric inspired by geckos' feet that allows a small robot with the textile on its feet to climb up smooth surfaces like glass or metal.

Engineers say they hope to "scale up" the design for humans.

Geckos can defy gravity because microscopic hairs on their toes vastly increase the surface area, which creates a "one-way adhesive." A sticky bond is created with each step but movement in the other direction can break that bond.

The Stanford University researchers have created a rubber-like material covered with thousands of tiny polymer fibers to imitate the gecko's hairs. These hairs, called setae, are ten times thinner than a human hair.

The strong and reusable material, which leaves no residue or damage, has been tested on a "robotic gecko" called Stickybot that can walk up a pane of glass, and scientists say they're on the way to making a version of the material that "would allow humans to climb with gecko adhesive."

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI).

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