TED2009: Biologist Robert Full


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.


  1. This is really interesting, and I appreciate your dedicated blogging of the conference.

    But what is with your spelling, grammar and syntax? It’s like a robot or something.

    What’s going on Mark?

  2. I think Mark is reporting in near real time mode.

    * * *

    OK, this is clever work, but do we really want a robot that can CATCH us if it gets it into its head that it wants to EXTERMINATE! us?

  3. Wow, those animations keep getting worse: congratulations, of a kind, they’re quite sublimely horrible! Is the point to make the speakers look ridiculous, or are you unaware of that effect?

  4. Illustration has nothing to do with it.

    When you speak at TED, the contents of your speech are analyzed by a leading-edge AI computer, which turns the contents into a trippy holographic display in near real time.

    This is projected over the speaker, resulting in the photographs that Mark has supplied with his reports.

  5. What’s with all the TED talk spamming posts appearing on boing boing? I don’t mean to be a troll, i simply don’t see the need to hear about every new talk appearing on a relatively old website.

    Yes TED is a really interesting site… but i think a once off “Hey TED is interesting, check it out” would be better than the tirade of “OMG new TED talk, OMG another one, OH they put another video up, OH more TED videos”

  6. Impostleable

    ..also: I’m not sure it’s technically possible to spam your own blog. I’m sure that’s called something else. “Blogging” maybe.

  7. I think it’s called “Prolific Blogging” :^)

    IMO there is a point where the amount of posts on a blog (like BB) can reach a point where it has to be divvied up a bit. I’m thinking like Slashdot does.


    About the multiple TED posts, I’m pretty sure someone working at BB is trying to send a secret message hidden in the TED headlines and possibly in the first paragraph – though I haven’t totally ruled out the possibility that the message is hidden in the body of the post. Let’s put our brains together and see if we can figure what they’re trying to tell us.

  9. I was under the impression that being in the audience @ TED, it was “devices off and attention to the stage” kind of thing. At least that’s what a friend who’s there was telling me.

    Kind of funny to imagine Mark going back to the online versions after the fact to catch the things he missed because he was live blogging :^)

  10. Takuan, that’s pretty funny, I know you not serio- – wait, no it can’t be! Arrrgh1 I’ve been working on this for hours and its a stinking chocolate milk ad? Bastards!

    Or maybe, “be sure to drink your ovaltine,” is BB code for something else. We’re going to have to get inside Mark’s head to solve this one.

  11. Tom, I think I have it!

    If we take the phrase “be sure to drink your ovaltine”, and run it through the ROT13 cipher, we get this:

    “or fher gb qevax lbhe binygvar”

    Now brace yourself, here’s the magic. If we run it through a second time, we get:

    “be sure to drink your ovaltine”

    Astounding? Amazing? Its the Shocking Truth!

  12. Full didn’t develop stickybot. It was developed at Stanford University, in Professor Mark Cutkosky’s lab. Robert Full is a collaborator with Cutkosky’s lab for various projects, but to put credit where credit is due, Cutkosky deserves the credit in this post.

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