Another engineering feat from the nerds at Stanford: Researchers at the school’s Biomimetics and Dextrous Manipulation Lab designed a tiny 12-gram robot that can pull up to 2,000 times its weight—the equivalent of a human being dragging a blue whale across land.
The ant-like robots, which were actually inspired by geckos, use a controllable adhesive technology to stick to surfaces and then lift themselves off of them to inch forward. According to New Scientist, the bots’ movement mimics that of an inchworm, advancing forward in small spurts to avoid falling over or using too much power.
The researchers also created an even smaller, 9-gram robot that can climb walls while carrying 100 times its weight (roughly a kilogram). That may not seem like much, but it’s as if a human were to scale the side of a skyscraper while pulling a full-sized elephant.
While they’re certainly an impressive step in engineering, the robots don’t seem to have much practical use with their current size and speed. Larger versions could potentially haul much heavier loads, and would have a wide range of applications, like moving heavy objects across construction sites. New Scientist also posits they could be quite handy in emergencies: They could bring a ladder up to a person trapped in a burning building, for instance.
The researchers will present their tiny geckobots next month at the International Conference on Robotics and Automation in Seattle.