It doesn’t mean experiments taking place at Stanford’s Biomimetics and Dexterous Manipulation Lab are any less science-y just because they sometimes resemble scenes from a “Spider-Man” or “Mission: Impossible” movie.
“You see those movies as a kid and think, ‘If I could do that, it would be great,’ ” says the lab’s Elliot Hawkes. So he did do that. And it was great.
The Stanford team has created paws that look like paddles and use the same scientific principles employed by the sticky feet of geckos to allow humans to scale glass walls. The university’s legendary mechanical engineering department has a history of creating its own legion of Silicon Valley superheroes, but it wasn’t until the work of Hawkes’ four-man team that companies like Marvel or Mattel showed much interest in the school’s awesome amygdalae — or “lizard brains.”
After pioneering work a decade ago in “sticky” robots that aped the gecko’s grip, a new generation of biomimeticists took the next step: putting a human face on lizard paws. That face belonged to Hawkes, a graduate student whose Ph.D. research culminated with him scaling a sheer glass wall like a certain cinematic web-spinner.