Science & Technology

Spider-Man like device will help robots ‘defy gravity’

Eat your heart out Spidey. A wall-climbing robot uses the zero-pressure difference method to form suction. (Xin Li and Kaige Shi) (Spider-man property of Marvel/ Disney)
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New spider robot device ‘does whatever a spider can.’

Researchers have developed specially designed vacuum suction units that will allow robots to scale walls. The unit can be used on surfaces regardless of their texture, this includes rough walls. The device has applications in the development of climbing robots and robot arms with massively improved grasping capabilities.

By developing a new a zero-pressure difference (ZPD) method the device’s developers Xin Li and Kaige Shi eliminated problems traditional methods of vacuum suction and previous vacuum suction devices experience in maintaining suction on rough surfaces due to vacuum leakage–which leads to suction failure. The technique eliminates leakage issues by employing a high-speed rotating water ring between the surface and suction cup to maintain the vacuum.

The team’s research is published in the journal Physics of Fluids.

 A wall-climbing spider robot uses the zero-pressure difference method to form suction. ( Xin Li and Kaige Shi)
A wall-climbing spider robot uses the zero-pressure difference method to form suction. ( Xin Li and Kaige Shi)

“There are many applications of our design, but we think the wall-climbing robot will be the most useful,” says Li. “Compared to other wall-climbing robots, the robot with our ZPD-based suction unit achieves surprising improvement in performance.”

The centrifugal force of the rotating water eliminates the pressure difference at the boundary of the vacuum zone to prevent vacuum leakage. It can maintain a high vacuum pressure inside the suction cup.

Their ZPD suction unit is energy-efficient and smaller and lighter than traditional suction units. The researchers tested their unit with three different suction sizes and applications: on a robotic arm to grip and handle objects, on a hexapod wall-climbing robot and as a Spider-Man-like wall-climbing device.

“The next step in this research is to cut down water consumption,” concludes Li. “If the water consumption can be reduced, the suction unit will work for a very long time with little water so that the wall-climbing robot could carry its own water instead of being connected to a supply.”

Peter Parker, eat your heart out.

Original research: The article, “Vacuum suction unit based on the zero pressure difference method,” is authored by Kaige Shi and Xin Li. Physics of Fluids



Robert is a member of the Association of British Science Writers and the Institute of Physics, qualified in Physics, Mathematics and Contemporary science. He contributes articles on topics as diverse as quantum physics, cosmology, medical science and the environment at Scisco media.

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