A gecko could climb the 10-story glass waterfall at EF Education First’s North American Headquarters in 52 seconds. So when local research and development laboratory Draper was tasked with helping soldiers scale walls, its researchers found the lizard an obvious prototype.
“A couple years ago my son requested a gecko for his birthday, and I have to say, I am awed by this thing,” Program Manager David Carter says. “It puts any engineering we can do to shame, it’s really incredible, it can leap and catch itself with one foot, it’s quite remarkable.”
Draper studied the tiny hairs on geckos’ feet that allow them to use intermolecular forces to grip onto surfaces. It replicated that natural technology—a process called biomimetic design—and added suction to make a tool for human climbing.
The equipment drew the attention of a BBC show called “Beyond Bionic,” which tests out technology that imitates animals’ abilities. Its creators wanted to showcase Draper’s contraption, but needed an interesting building.
The EF Education First headquarters, located in North Point, became an obvious contender thanks to the “glass waterfall” rippling through the center of the building.
“The main reason why we decided to say yes for such an unconventional collaboration was that we thought it would be fun for staff,” says EF Education First spokesperson Adam Bickelman. “We’re all very proud of this building, it’s a beautiful place to work. But even more so, in the last year we launched a series of STEM tours … to bring kids STEM immersive learning experiences all over the country and the world. So we thought in celebration of those new travel experiences for students, this would be a fun thing to do.”
Draper had tested the climbing device before, but only on less complex surfaces and only up three or four stories. However, the climb went smoothly, and the “Beyond Bionic” climber seems impressed by the equipment. The climb happened in the fall, and the footage aired on BBC on Tuesday.
But Carter remains humble about the relative power of technology compared to that of nature and speaks of geckos reverently. The climber from the BBC show took 45 minutes to scale the building.
“We’re forming a replica of the physics, but it’s nowhere near as efficient or effective as the actual gecko hair,” he says.
Check out the video here, courtesy of EF Education First: