Christian Long

Robert Full: Learning from a Gecko’s Tail

In TED Talks on May 2, 2010 at 10:27 pm

Reflection by KEITH C.

Original TED page w/ speaker bio, links, comments, etc:

Robert Full:  Learning from a Gecko’s Tail

I found video very intriguing and creative. I think that one of the main reasons it was so interesting to me was the fact that I am so obsessed with animals, specifically reptiles and amphibians. I have always been interested in them and constantly loved to learn more about them.

To me the meaning of Biomutualism is, using the knowledge gained from studying biology, such as the characteristics of a gecko and its tail, and applying it to advance another field of knowledge, such as building futuristic gecko robots.

In the video Robert, a biologist explains how he is fascinated with the studies of the gecko. He discovered that the geckos pad is a leaf-like structure that has many tiny hairs on them. The hairs have “a terrible case of split ends”, Robert would say. These hairs use intermolecular forces alone to enable them to climb up walls, rather than suction or Velcro.

After using this acquired knowledge of the geckos’ pads, Lynn Verinsky, a professional climber used the pads replicated from the pads. After watching the short clip of her doing so, these pads seemed like such in ingenious idea. The ease of her climbing up the wall with those pads seemed as if she was in some Spiderman show. In the future I can just see these pads being perfected and stuck to the tips of gloves, and becoming something that you could buy at the store.

Then Robert reveals the flaw of these pads. The problem with them is that once they get stuck to the wall or whatever object they are sticking too, there is no way for them to get unstuck. He explains that when the geckos want to get unstuck to make their next move up the wall, the simply peel back their toes away from the surface. Although when the gecko is climbing at full speed there is no way to tell that this is what is going on. Robert then picks up a gecko he had with him and shows how they copied that same toe peeling technique on his version of the robot. To me this is fascinating. The way they made the gecko so realistic is mind blowing. I can only imagine the hours and hours they slaved over this robot. This just makes me wonder how many advances we, humankind, could achieve by studying animals and the way they function, to improve our technology.

Another clip was then played that showed how not only could the robot gecko on glass surfaces but also the surface of a cabinet due to its new adhesive. Robert then pointed out that the robot had a tail, not only to look more like a gecko but also because it would fall off the wall if a tail was not attached. He explained how he had to consider what purpose tails serve. He knew that they were used for purposes such as storing fat, giving different types of balance, communication, and defense.

After running experiments with these geckos, he found out that when the geckos slip or loose balance, it uses its tail for a fifth leg that gives stability. To find what other ways the gecko uses its tail, they ran more experiments to replicate a situation where the gecko was blown of a leaf by the wind. When they did this, they realized how the gecko could use his tail to right himself in midair with a flick of his tail. Then Robert showed a live experiment of the robot they made fall just like the actually gecko had in the previous video, and just as the real gecko as used its tail to swing it self around, so did the robot gecko. Finally, after doing experiments with a wind tunnel, they figured out the gecko can actually use its tail to maneuver in midair to its desired destination. After gaining these results, engineers at Boston Dynamics, produced a robotic gecko that used an active tail to support itself when climbing.

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