Large spider robot with special suckers can climb walls with ease

20 Jan 2020

A different spider robot to the one that can climb walls. Image: © Oleksii Nykonchuk/

Engineers have developed a spider robot with specially designed suction pads for scaling walls and rough surfaces.

Engineers with Zhejiang University have revealed a new spider robot that could one day be climbing the tallest buildings thanks to a new gravity-defying ability. Writing in Physics of Fluids, the researchers wrote that they have developed a suction unit applied to the suckers on the end of the robot’s leg, which gives it substantially better grip than previous robots.

Traditional methods of vacuum suction and other similar devices cannot maintain suction on rough surfaces due to vacuum leakage, resulting in the robot falling off the surface.

However, this new zero-pressure difference (ZPD) method overcomes that challenge by using a high-speed rotating water ring between the surface and suction cup to maintain the vacuum.

The large spider robot connected to a wire climbing a white tiled wall.

Image: Xin Li and Kaige Shi

“There are many applications of our design, but we think the wall-climbing robot will be the most useful,” said researcher Xin Li. “Compared to other wall-climbing robots, the robot with our ZPD-based suction unit achieves surprising improvement in performance.”

The centrifugal force of the rotating water eliminates the pressure difference at the boundary of the vacuum zone to prevent vacuum leakage. Importantly, the ZPD method is energy efficient and both smaller and lighter than traditional suction units. The researchers tested their unit with three different suction sizes and applications: on a robotic arm to grip and handle objects, on a hexapod wall-climbing robot, and as a ‘Spider-Man-like’ wall-climbing device.

“The next step in this research is to cut down the water consumption. If the water consumption can be reduced, the suction unit will work for a very long time with little water so that the wall-climbing robot could carry its own water instead of being connected to a supply,” Li said.

Elsewhere in the world of robotics, researchers last month revealed an ‘invincible’ autonomous robot insect that can’t be flattened. The insect – called DEAnsect – is propelled 3cm per second by artificial muscles.

Updated 3.11pm, 21 January 2020: This article was updated to show the researchers are with Zhejiang University, not the American Institute of Physics. 

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic