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Spidey, in Real Life

Pentagon project to let you climb like the wall-crawler.

GI: Joe might soon be able to do whatever a spider can. Or, at least, one thing a spider can.

 A vision of the future?
 A vision of the future?

According to Wired, DARPA, the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (maybe not as sexy an acronym as SHIELD’s, but still kind of catchy) has awarded a grant to chemical engineers at Cornell University to develop a gadget that’ll allow US soldiers to scale walls like Spider-Man.   Or maybe, more specifically, the Beetle, as the palm-sized device’s water-based adhesion is inspired by that of a Floridian leaf beetle.

The gadget consists of a three-layered plate powered by a common 9-volt battery. The electric field pumps water through each layer, causing droplets to pop through tiny holes in the top layer. Each water droplet yields minimal force, but when thousands of them work together, they create enough surface tension for a square-inch device to hold up more than 15 pounds. The smaller the device, and the more holes, the stronger the adhesion forces. 

Supposedly, a fully-grown 225 lbs man (like me!) can be fully supported by just a 3x5 inch plate on the sole of his shoe.   The device could even one-up the wall-crawler by being able to handle even slippery services and “surfaces of various roughness” like plastic, linoleum and wood.

 Maybe more like this?
 Maybe more like this?

"UTTER BALDERDASH!," you say.   

Maybe so, but I can’t help thinking of a little story from my “secret origin.”  I once lived in Syracuse, NY, which is a 30-40 minute drive from Ithaca, and got the chance one day to tour Cornell’s research labs for a field trip in middle school (I want to say it was ’99).   The experience was a bit like getting spoilers years in advance.   Among the technologies we previewed were fiber optic cables, which the lab techs told us would allow vast amounts of   information to be delivered almost instantaneously.   Considering that cable-internet was fairly new at the time and most of us were still using dial-up connections, the prospect was pretty sci-fi.  

Well, it’s 10 years and some change later, and average consumers are uploading, streaming and downloading enormous files in the about the same time it takes them toast bread.   The concept doesn’t seem too sci-fi now, does it?  

-- Tom Pinchuk is the writer of UNIMAGINABLE for Arcana Comics and HYBRID BASTARDS! for Archaia Comics.   Watch out for the HYBRID BASTARDS! hardcover collection this March - - available for pre-order now on