Over a decade ago, Stanford roboticists started experimenting with ways of using arrays of very small spines to help climbing robots grip rough surfaces. These microspine grippers have been used on all kinds of research robots since then, and recently, NASA has decided that microspines are the best way for spacecraft to grab onto asteroids.
Yesterday at the IEEE/RSJ International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems in South Korea, Shiquan Wang from Stanford presented a new microspine-based palm design for rock-climbing robots. These palms use microspines that can support four times the weight of previous designs, which will be enough to turn JPL’s RoboSimian DRC robot into a champion rock climber. And we’re not talking just scrambling up slopes: It’ll be able to scale vertical rock faces, and even clamber around overhangs.