Robots: Climbing a Wall

Even the bravest of firefighters can't relish the prospect of walking through a burning building. Robots, though, have no qualms—and now engineers are building a new generation of "Spider-Man" robots that can climb walls and walk on ceilings, acting as eyes and ears in search-and-rescue operations. Jizhong Xiao, an electrical-engineering professor at the City College of New York, has developed a one-kilogram robot that can traverse the right angle between wall and ceiling. The squat robot has a vacuum rotor in its belly that creates suction to hug the wall and wheels that drive it forward and back. The suction device works even on rough surfaces, says Xiao. "The market value for automated building inspections is huge," he says. The robot is intended to do the work of technicians who often work from suspended scaffolding, a dangerous occupation. With its high-resolution camera, it might also be used for surveillance.