A research project from the U.S. military that aims to replicate geckos’ legendary climbing ability has borne success: a material that enabled a 218-pound man to climb straight up a 25-foot glass wall. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s “Z-Man” program is meant to look into alternatives to the usual methods soldiers use to scale walls and buildings. Putting a rope over the top may be tried and true, but it can also be very risky; what if each soldier had his own way to climb up?
Your dreams of becoming Spider-Man are one step closer to reality thanks to DARPA’s Z-Man project. This is an effort to create a climbing apparatus that will allow humans to scale smooth walls and objects without risk of falling. The first tests of this new system have been successful, and it’s based not on spiders, but on the humble gecko. The large rectangular paddles that constitute the Z-Man system don’t look much like a gecko’s foot, but they seek to replicate the same delicate structure that gives geckos their stupendous climbing ability — an ability that has long been one of the most perplexing in the animal kingdom. A gecko’s foot doesn’t secrete any kind of adhesive, yet they remain firmly planted running up walls. The answer lies not in chemistry, but in atomic-scale physics.