Controllable adhesion, the ability to selectively attach or detach from a surface, allows animals like geckos to achieve amazing feats like walking up walls and along ceilings. Roboticists have investigated how to endow robotic systems with similar capabilities for tasks like inspection, exploration, and cleaning. However, many previous approaches to achieve both movement and adhesion along a surface require complex robot designs with multiple adhesive pads. In this work, we studied a novel way to achieve controllable adhesion with a simple robot that can stick to a variety of surfaces. We found that when a vibrating flexible disk is placed in close proximity to a smooth surface, it sticks to the surface, but also can slide along the surface while continuously adhering. This is possible as the vibrations induce a net negative pressure in a thin film of air between the disk and the surface. Using our experimental data, we designed and built a mobile robot capable of scaling vertical walls, driving along a curved loop, and supporting a payload approximately x10 the weight of the total robotic system.
Related Publication: Weston-Dawkes W. P., Adibnazari I., Hu Y.-W., Everman M., Gravish N., Tolley M. T. (2021), "Gas-lubricated vibration-based adhesion for robotics", Advanced Intelligent Systems.
From the Bioinspired Robotics and Design Lab. University of California, San Diego.