GrabCAD had the opportunity to talk to Laurent Pambaguian at European Space Agency (ESA) about the development of wall-climbing space robots.
ESA has shown that robots mimicking the natural climbing abilities of sticky gecko feet could work in space as well as on Earth. Does this mean we could be close to autonomous hull-crawling robots working on our future spacecrafts? Yes.
Researchers from ESA and Simon Fraser University in Canada subjected gecko-inspired ‘dry adhesive’ materials to space vacuums and found that the stickiness is, in fact, retained.
Engineers from the University’s School of Engineering Science have successfully demonstrated such adhesives in action with what they have named the ‘Abigaille’ crawling robots.
A gecko’s feet are sticky due to a bunch of little hairs with ends just 100–200 nanometres across – around the scale of individual bacteria. They are so tiny that atomic interactions between the ends of hairs and the surface allow them to stick.
Technology for the footpad terminators of the robots is borrowed from the microelectronics industry. They are about 100 times larger than a gecko’s hairs in order to support a robot’s weight and leverage dry adhesives because other adhesive methods don't work in space.
Microscopic view of robot footpad
For now the robotic wall-crawling is limited to relatively smooth, man-made surfaces. But this tiny legged prototype could be the predecessor to more advanced robots that crawl along the chambers of spacecrafts- cleaning and maintaining them.
The project testing took place through ESA’s Networking/Partnering Initiative, which supports work carried out by Universities and research institutes on advanced technologies with potential space applications.
The tests and results showed that engineering can lean on nature for inspiration and ideas.
Source: European Space Agency