Wall-climbing robot suitable for space missions

3 January 2014
By Edd Gent
Mobile version
Share |
The ‘Abigaille’ wall-crawler robot

The ‘Abigaille’ wall-crawler robot

One of the robot's six feet, which has six degrees of freedom and is operated by a detaching motor cam with infrared sensor

One of the robot's six feet, which has six degrees of freedom and is operated by a detaching motor cam with infrared sensor

A microscopic view of the robot's foot pad

A microscopic view of the robot's foot pad

The robot is able to transition from vertical to horizontal surfaces

The robot is able to transition from vertical to horizontal surfaces

Gecko-inspired robots could soon be crawling across the hulls of spacecraft after European Space Agency (ESA) research found their adhesive feet would work in space.

Engineers from Simon Fraser University in Canada have previously demonstrated ‘dry adhesive’ materials with a family of ‘Abigaille’ crawling robots inspired by a gecko’s feet.

The lizards feet are sticky due to bunches of little hairs with ends just 100 to 200 nanometres across – sufficiently small that atomic interactions between the ends of the hairs and the surface come into play.

“We’ve borrowed techniques from the microelectronics industry to make our own footpad terminators,” said Michael Henrey from the University’s School of Engineering Science. “Technical limitations mean these are around 100 times larger than a gecko’s hairs, but they are sufficient to support our robot’s weight.”

Interested in assessing the adhesive’s suitability for space, Henrey tested it in ESA’s Electrical Materials and Process Labs, based in the Agency’s ESTEC technical centre in Noordwijk, the Netherlands, with additional support from ESA’s Automation and Robotics Lab.

“The reason we’re interested in dry adhesives is that other adhesive methods wouldn’t suit the space environment,” he said. “Scotch, duct or pressure-sensitive tape would collect dust, reducing their stickiness over time. They would also give off fumes in vacuum conditions, which is a big no-no because it might affect delicate spacecraft systems.

“Velcro requires a mating surface, and broken hooks could contaminate the robot’s working environment. Magnets can’t stick to composites, for example, and magnetic fields might affect sensitive instruments.”

The researchers subjected the ‘dry adhesive’ materials to space vacuum and temperatures and found that the stickiness is retained throughout.

“A depth-sensing indentation instrument was used inside a vacuum chamber to precisely assess the dry adhesive’s sticking performance,” said ESA’s Laurent Pambaguian. “Experimental success means deployment in space might one day be possible.”

“It’s very expensive to upgrade hardware once it is up in space so the idea would be to fly a more general robot in the first place,” Henrey said. “This could then be adapted through software upgrades for different tasks that weren’t anticipated at the start of the project.

“Our Abigaille climbing robot is therefore quite dexterous, with six legs each having four degrees of freedom, so it should be handle environments that a wheeled robot could not. For example, it can transition from the vertical to horizontal, which might be useful for going around a satellite or overcoming obstacles on the way.”

Robotic wall-crawling is limited to relatively smooth man-made surfaces for now, with research continuing to improve performance.

The cooperation 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 Abigaile III wall-climbing robot in action:

Latest Issue

E&T cover image 1604

"Should the UK's engineers be in or out of Europe? The IET sets out its official position on the EU referendum this week - will you agree?"

->

E&T jobs

  • QUANTITY SURVEYOR

    SSE
    • Melksham or Swindon or Oxford
    • SALARY £33,520 - £44,269 + CAR (SSE 7) DEPENDING ON SKILLS AND EXPERIENCE

    Due to continued growth and success of the performance team, we are looking to recruit two Quantity Surveyors to join our existing team, providing...

    • Recruiter: SSE

    Apply for this job

  • QUANTITY SURVEYOR

    SSE
    • Reading or Slough or Uxbridge
    • SALARY £33,520 - £44,269 + CAR (SSE 7) DEPENDING ON SKILLS AND EXPERIENCE

    Due to continued growth and success of the performance team, we are looking to recruit two Quantity Surveyors to join our existing team, providing...

    • Recruiter: SSE

    Apply for this job

  • QUANTITY SURVEYOR

    SSE
    • Bournemouth/Poole or Salisbury or Southampton
    • SALARY £33,520 - £44,269 + CAR (SSE 7) DEPENDING ON SKILLS AND EXPERIENCE

    Due to continued growth and success of the performance team, we are looking to recruit two Quantity Surveyors to join our existing team, providing...

    • Recruiter: SSE

    Apply for this job

  • Managing Estimator - Project Controls

    National Grid
    • Warwickshire, England
    • £57 - £65 per annum

    Managing Estimator - Warwick - National Grid Salary: £57-65k plus excellent benefits including: Performance Bonus, a generous pension scheme, flexible benefitsLocation: Warwick (CV34 6DA) - West Midlands We currently have an exciting opportunity for a

    • Recruiter: National Grid

    Apply for this job

  • SAP TEAM MANAGER GENERAL ENQUIRIES

    SSE
    • Melksham, Swindon or Oxford
    • £33,520 TO £44,269 + CAR (SSE7) DEPENDING ON SKILLS AND EXPERIENCE

    An exciting opportunity has arisen for an Overhead Tower Line Manager within Power Distribution covering Southern England.

    • Recruiter: SSE

    Apply for this job

  • Principal Engineer - Submarine Operability

    BAE Systems
    • Cumbria, England, Barrow-In-Furness
    • Competitive package

    As a Principal Engineer - Operability, you will be using your knowledge of submarine systems operation to influence the way the systems are designed, ensuring the Royal Navy personnel will be able to operate the system effectively

    • Recruiter: BAE Systems

    Apply for this job

  • OVERHEAD TOWER LINE MANAGER

    SSE
    • Southern England
    • SALARY £42,149 - £62,427 + CAR (SSE9/10) DEPENDANT ON SKILLS AND EXPERIENCE

    An exciting opportunity has arisen for an Overhead Tower Line Manager within Power Distribution covering Southern England.

    • Recruiter: SSE

    Apply for this job

  • Electrical Engineer - Water

    Premium job

    Mott MacDonald
    • Peterborough, Cambridgeshire

    Mott MacDonald's highly successful Water and Environment Unit is recruiting an electrical engineer....

    • Recruiter: Mott MacDonald

    Apply for this job

  • Electrical Design Engineer

    Premium job

    Mott MacDonald
    • Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

    Mott MacDonald's highly successful water business continues to win and deliver a fantastic amount of work....

    • Recruiter: Mott MacDonald

    Apply for this job

  • Senior Programme Manager

    Network Rail
    • England, London
    • £76800 - £86400 per annum

    Do you possess a track record of taking the lead on large projects?

    • Recruiter: Network Rail

    Apply for this job

More jobs ▶

Subscribe

Choose the way you would like to access the latest news and developments in your field.

Subscribe to E&T