DARPA Closer to Urban-combat Spidey Soldiers

SpidermanThe U.S. military has taken another major step toward turning foot soldiers into hand-over-hand wall-crawlers a la Spider-Man.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects says a 218-pound man toting a 50-pound load climbed up and down a 25-foot wall of glass using only a pair of hand-held paddles with a sticking power based on the gecko.

“The gecko is one of the champion climbers in the animal kingdom, so it was natural for DARPA to look to it for inspiration in overcoming some of the maneuver challenges that U.S. forces face in urban environments,” Matt Goodman, program manager for DARPA’S “Z-Man” project, said in a June 5 statement.

The Z-Man project includes several programs to provide combat troops Spider-Man-like climbing abilities for urban warfare. Soldiers deploying to fight in cities will have biologically inspired aids enabling them to scale vertical walls constructed from typical building materials while carrying a full combat load and without the use of ropes or ladders.

It was nearly two years ago that that the agency’s major breakthrough was a 16-square-inch sheet of material – dubbed “Geckskin” – that could stick to a vertical glass wall while supporting a static load of 660 pounds.

Geckskin is an integrated adhesive of synthetic soft skin and firm tendons that “drape” over a surface to maximize contact, the same way that a geckos feet drapes over surfaces. But just as easily as a gecko can step away from whatever surface it is climbing, the Geckskin separates from the surface with a simple tug. And, just like the gecko, it leaves behind no wet, filmy or sticky residue, officials told Defense Tech in 2012.

The novel polymer microstructure technology used in the Z-Man paddles was developed for DARPA by Draper Laboratory of Cambridge, Massachusetts, the agency said in a statement.

Humans are a lot larger and heavier than geckos, so that one of the initial challenges in developing a device to support human climbing was the issue of scaling, DARPA said in its recent statement. The Geckskin climbing paddles capable have to balance sufficient adhesive forces in both the shear (parallel to the vertical surface) and normal (perpendicular to the vertical surface) directions.

Only this way will a soldier be able to remain adhered to a surface during a hand-over-hand climb – attaching and detaching the paddles with each movement, the agency said.

About the Author

Bryant Jordan
Bryant Jordan is a reporter for Military.com. He can be reached at bryant.jordan@military.com. Follow him on Twitter at @BryantJordan.
  • Auyong Ah Meng

    No if only they also issue web shooters to tangled up/immobilized their “victims”…yum yum..

  • blight_

    Props to the biomedical engineering establishment that presumably looked at the mechanisms of gecko adhesion years ago.
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=gecko+ad

    119 hits on pubmed isn’t all that much, but as the earliest article is 2000 it suggests the problem has been looked into for at least 14 years. A google scholar search goes even further.

    • https://www.facebook.com/kuzinov Steve Jenkinson

      Now, they’ve turned it into an actual item that can be used. Sounds a lot easier than a grappling hook and rope, or lugging ladders around.

      • blight_

        Definitely much more portable. I guess we need to figure out what kind of surfaces it works on..everything from glass to sandstone to concrete to adobe, all covered with water, sand, oil, detergents…presumably the enemy will try every trick in the book to make surfaces unclimbable when this trickles out into the field.

        Presumably if it exploits van der Waals interactions between the gecko pads and the climbing surface, non-polar detergents may be the answer. We will see. Regardless, the guy climbing up is very vulnerable to attack, just as with present day ladders and grapples. On the plus side, you can’t cut the grapple or throw back the ladder.

        • https://www.facebook.com/kuzinov Steve Jenkinson

          or have the grapple come back at you……

  • anthony

    We got the start soon some animal will try to look like us,what do you think some of you UFO believers?

  • hibeam

    Great idea. I will alert the Veterans who are dying on the secret waiting lists. They will be so excited. “I don’t mind dying now.. this is just so cool”

    • RicanDoc

      Agree! Lets use those Spidey Powers to unravel the VA mess and get those issues corrected…

  • jamesb

    …do the guys have to wear tights?

    • hibeam

      The Spidey guys? No. Hell no. The Spidey girls? Yes.

  • Jorgen

    ….holy cow……Batman!

    • Robb

      You mean; holy gecko, Batman!!

  • Rod

    A “Friendly Neighborhood” moniker would have been useful in these last two wars….

  • Liam

    Shit…..soon available at your local climbing store REI….any one any one?!

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    • Jacob

      Wait….. For this information?

      (Facepalm)

      We can’t keep this shit secret can we?

  • dtwilliams9

    And why is our stupid asses publishing this info?????

    • Highlander52

      You’re right, dt, why do we always do this shit to ourselves?

    • Sapper First

      You answered it yourself, “we’re stupid”, and we wonder how our Intel gets out….

  • highlander52

    We should be the ones turning the terrorists backyard into glass – bloom!

  • Scooter

    C’mon folks….. you don’t think this is “old news” for firms like DARPA? What…the first time someone leaves it behind we have so say “well, there goes that technology”. Let’s see them try and replicate the process to manufacture the item.

    Just say’in….

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