Despite popular belief, not all geckos are employed by Geico® to star
in television commercials. Some of them are walking on glass in
science labs while researchers try to figure out just what factors
keep them from slipping off! Scientists at the University of
Calgary and Clemson University have made that discovery!
Though much has been learned about the hair-like filaments on the bottoms of gecko feet that enable them to climb on glass and other smooth surfaces at a 90 degree angle, what triggers the deployment of these filaments was not known until this study. The answer is gravity.
The Calgary/Clemson researchers decided to measure the angle of the glass at which the geckos began to cling with their sticky filament hairs. Six geckos were observed; three of the geckos turned on their adhesive systems at 10 degrees; the other three launched their treads at 30 degrees. In all cases, once the adhesive systems were deployed, the geckos slowed down.
"There are costs, in terms of speed, and benefits, in terms of
traction, associated with this switch just as there are for Formula 1
cars when rain tires are employed instead of slicks when circumstances
place a premium on grip over outright speed," said Anthony Russell of Calgary.
Evolutionary biologists, Russell and Tim Higham of Clemson, study animals in their natural environments to learn about nature's solutions to complex problems. The results of the gecko experiment may be biomimicked in robots for space and military applications... and maybe even "purposes as simple as hanging pictures on walls."
If in the future you are watching live TV coverage of a robot walking up the side of a space rocket, you will know that its developers were inspired by the sticky feet of the gecko!
Science Daily, photos from Wikipedia