Biologist Robert Full is on stage at TED2009. He "studies cockroach legs and gecko feet. His research is helping build the perfect 'distributed foot' for tomorrow's robots, based on evolution's ancient engineering."
Here's a video of his talk from 2005.
He's back with an update, and his mustache is bigger and better than ever.
His is curious about gecko toes. How can they climb up walls so fast? Their feet have little hairs and they ends have tons of split hairs. They are so tiny that molecular forces create the stickiness.
Now they have synthesized this stuff. It's a "directional adhesive." He showing a video of a woman climbing the side of a building using synthetic gecko feet material.
Problem with robots is that they can't get unstuck with this stuff. But he's solved that. He built a robot that uses the "toe peeling" technique to climb up walls like a gecko. (Here's a video of the Stickybot).
Engineers discovered that if robots don't have a tail, they fall off the wall. The "active tail" functions as a 5th leg and creates stability. A gecko uses its tail to right itself when it falls so it can land on its feet. Video of gecko flying around in wind chamber. It uses tail to guide it around to a landing spot. They learned that geckos glide in nature, too. So they created an active tail for the gecko.
Mark Frauenfelder is the founder of Boing Boing and the editor-in-chief of MAKE and Cool Tools. Twitter: @frauenfelder. His new book is Maker Dad: Lunch Box Guitars, Antigravity Jars, and 22 Other Incredibly Cool Father-Daughter DIY Projects