A group of mechanical engineers from Stanford University have created a collection of tiny robots capable of pulling items more than 100 times their own weight, thanks to a clever adhesive mechanism inspired by geckos.
The feet of these small robots are covered with extremely small rubber spikes that grip onto surfaces as the robot moves. When pressure is applied to the foot, the spikes bend, which increases their surface area to provide more grip. But when the robot wants to pick up its foot to move forward, it can easily do so as the spikes will straighten.
The robot pulls heavy loads along by keeping one foot firmly attached to the surface while the other moves forward, and can do so either horizontally or vertically. One such bot weighs just 9 grams and can pull more than a kilogram, while an even smaller one weighs a mere 20 milligrams with the ability to lift items up to 500 milligrams.
But the strongest one of them all is a 12 gram bot nicknamed μTug, which has the capacity to drag an item up to 2,000 times its own weight (24 kilograms). Engineer David Christensen, a member of the team that created these robots, says that this the equivalent of a human dragging along a blue whale.
The team hopes that these sort of robots could be used for hauling heavy items around factories, or to carry items to people in emergency situations. Current prototypes are reasonably slow, as you can see from the video above, but larger robots have the potential to both be stronger and faster.