Dynamic self-cleaning in gecko setae via digital hyperextension

Shihao Hu, Stephanie Lopez, Peter H. Niewiarowski, Zhenhai Xia

Abstract

Gecko toe pads show strong adhesion on various surfaces yet remain remarkably clean around everyday contaminants. An understanding of how geckos clean their toe pads while being in motion is essential for the elucidation of animal behaviours as well as the design of biomimetic devices with optimal performance. Here, we test the self-cleaning of geckos during locomotion. We provide, to our knowledge, the first evidence that geckos clean their feet through a unique dynamic self-cleaning mechanism via digital hyperextension. When walking naturally with hyperextension, geckos shed dirt from their toes twice as fast as they would if walking without hyperextension, returning their feet to nearly 80 per cent of their original stickiness in only four steps. Our dynamic model predicts that when setae suddenly release from the attached substrate, they generate enough inertial force to dislodge dirt particles from the attached spatulae. The predicted cleaning force on dirt particles significantly increases when the dynamic effect is included. The extraordinary design of gecko toe pads perfectly combines dynamic self-cleaning with repeated attachment/detachment, making gecko feet sticky yet clean. This work thus provides a new mechanism to be considered for biomimetic design of highly reuseable and reliable dry adhesives and devices.

  • Received February 9, 2012.
  • Accepted May 16, 2012.
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