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Climbing robot melts and cools plastic to get its footing

Nicole Lee, @nicole
May 8, 2013
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We've seen plenty of robots scale walls over the years, from models that emit supersonic streams of air to gecko-inspired creations, but few can carry more than their own weight, much less handle rough terrain. Enter this unique Swiss-made machine, which handles both tasks with aplomb thanks to the rapid melting and cooling of its thermoplastic adhesive feet. Created by the whiz kids over at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, the plastic compounds in the contraption's tootsies melt at around 70 degrees Celsius (158 Fahrenheit), where they're tacky enough to stick and fill surface gaps. If the bot needs to take a step forward, a thermoelectric effect kicks in to cool the plastics down, detaching the foot in the process. Repeat the motion several times and you get a tiny climbing critter that's able to carry about six to seven times its own weight over complex surfaces, a feat that's sure to be of actual use someday. It's certainly more practical, though a lot less fun, than one that mixes cocktails. Go on after the break to see the little climber in action.

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