The University of Massachusetts Amherst, Draper Laboratories and DARPA have been working together to develop paddles for military use inspired by gecko's sticky digits. On DARPA's website, they explain that the Z-Man program aims to synthesize the biological capabilities of spiders and small animals in wearable gloves for humans. These gloves would allow military members to better respond to urban environments, eliminating the use for ropes, ladders or other climbing tools to escape potentially dangerous situations.

Geckskin™ development
The first product developed for the Z-Man program was Geckskin™, an adhesive surface designed and created by professors at UMass Amherst. For years, researchers have been fascinated by geckos' abilities to climb up vertical surfaces, even smooth surfaces such as glass. They discovered that these animals have stiff tendons in their toepads and tiny hairs covering their feet called setae that conform and grip different types of surfaces. Geckos are also able to disengage their foot from any surface without leaving a residue behind.

According to UMass Amherst's website, professors Al Crosby and Duncan J. Irschick successfully mimicked the properties of geckos' feet and developed a synthetic "skin" using inexpensive materials. An index sized piece of their synthetic foot pad can hold up to 700 pounds on a smooth surface once the van der Waals force is strong, which is responsible for the molecule-to-molecule attraction that allows geckos to hang from smooth surfaces by only one toe.

Current research
UMass Amherst developed Gecksin in 2012, but the technology is now being applied specifically with military benefits in mind by DARPA. They have enlisted Draper Laboratories in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to research the "Gecko Nanoadhesive" further.

In early June, DARPA showcased the latest Z-Man research that led to the development of hand-held paddles with polymer microstructure technology. A 218-pound man was able to ascend and descend 25 feet of vertical glass with 50 additional pounds attached to his body in one trial. This successful technology will hopefully make it easier for military members to overcome limitations of tight urban environments. The paddles would allow military members with full gear and additional loads to climb vertical surfaces, reducing the potential hazard that comes with using ropes and other materials that were previously used to scale the side of buildings.

"The gecko is one of the champion climbers in the Animal Kingdom, so it was natural for DARPA to look to it for inspiration in overcoming some of the maneuver challenges that U.S. forces face in urban environments," said Dr. Matt Goodman, the DARPA program manager for Z-Man, in a press release. "Like many of the capabilities that the Department of Defense pursues, we saw with vertical climbing that nature had long since evolved the means to efficiently achieve it."

Additional tests of the technology are ongoing, but the research shows that this technology could be revolutionary for urban combat environments when military members need to quickly escape dangerous situations.