And that's just one example of bio-inspiration in action.
University of California researchers have also produced a dry adhesive that enables climbers to cling to sheer surfaces — just like your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. No radioactive arachnids were required in the manufacture of this incredible material, just your average gravity-defying gecko.
UC Berkeley Professor Robert Full leads the lab that developed the adhesive. He demonstrated the climbing capabilities of gecko-inspired materials in a TED talk, sharing footage of climbers scaling vertical glass surfaces with special, dry adhesive pads.
The material works just like the gecko’s feet, which are covered with thousands of microscopic hairs known as “setae.” The hairs bond with the surface at a molecular level.
"This work is driven by curiosity,” said Full, “We look at the gecko, and think, ‘How is the gecko able to run along that wall?’ ”
That curiosity has produced some astounding technological breakthroughs.
Wheels and sand don’t mix well. But geckos, with their shimmying movements and widely splayed feet, can sprint across the dunes. By mapping how geckos run on sand, Full's research has helped engineers develop prototype vehicles that traverse desert landscapes faster and more effectively.
Geckos are also inspiring new ways of thinking about stability: their tails allow them to right themselves mid-air when they fall.
“Unlike cats, who rotate their bodies when falling, the gecko is one of the few to use its tail to do this,” Full said.