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We may never be able to web-swing across New York City or lift cars with the proportionate strength of a spider, but there’s one of Spider-Man’s many abilities that can now be accomplished in real life: wall-crawling. An engineering team at Stanford University has created gloves that allow the wearer to scale walls like Spidey. Check out this video of project leader Eilliot Hawkes demonstrating the unique hand-wear.
While Spider-Man may be the first thing that comes to mind with these gloves, they are actually an attempt at mimicking the stickiness of a gecko’s foot. Scientists have worked for years to replicate an ability that only insects and animals like geckos have demonstrated, but the problem hasn’t been using the right amount of adhesive, it’s being able to support the strain of a human Hawkes told Popular Mechanics that there’s a law in physics called the square cube law, which states that, “the bigger you get, the more volume you must have in relation to your surface area.” Although the gecko may be able to climb up surfaces with its sticky pads, the human frame is much different, and the trick is being able to balance the strain of a human hand across the patch of adhesive used. If it can’t handle the weight, the whole system fails.
To overcome these obstacles, Hawkes and his team created a dry adhesive called PDMS microwedges, and attached 24 of these to a flat plate using springs. The springs are made of a “shape-memory alloy” that become softer as you pull on them rather than harder. The result is what you see in the video, with the person’s weight is distributed equally across the plates. However, in order for these gloves to work, the wearer has to be 200 pounds or less. If you were looking for another reason to go on a diet or head back to the gym, being able to climb up walls like Spider-Man can be your new incentive.
There are several other issues with these gloves. First, the gloves won’t work in the rain, which means avoid cities like Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington for your wall-crawling excursions. Second, they need a flat surface to function, so don’t try to scale up any mountain walls. Finally, the dirt the gloves accumulate decreases the stickiness over time, though this can be fixed by pressing scotch tape on them periodically. Unfortunately, these gloves are so cumbersome that it will be impossible to fight crime with them on, let alone scale up a building fast enough to save someone about to fall to their death. So if you were planning to buy a Spider-Man costume to go along with these one-of-a-kind gloves, save your money. This won’t be the device that leads you to a life of super-heroics.