Scientists develop vacuum suction units that defy gravity

Washington D.C.: Your dreams of scaling high rise buildings may soon come true as scientists are on their way to develop a highly effective suction unit that can be used to latch on to rough and highly textured surfaces.

This new invention may find applications in the development of climbing robots and robotic arms with grasping capabilities.

Traditional methods of vacuum suction and previous vacuum suction devices cannot maintain a grip on rough surfaces due to vacuum leakage, which leads to suction failure.

Researchers Xin Li and Kaige Shi have come up with a zero-pressure difference (ZPD) method to enhance the development of vacuum suction units.

Their method has managed to overcome leakage limitations by using a high-speed rotating water ring between the surface and suction cup to maintain the vacuum.

They discuss their work in this week’s Physics of Fluids, from AIP Publishing.

“There are many applications of our design, but we think the wall-climbing robot will be the most useful,” said Li.

“Compared to other wall-climbing robots, the robot with our ZPD-based suction unit achieves surprising improvement in performance.”

The centrifugal force of the rotating water eliminates the pressure difference at the boundary of the vacuum zone to prevent vacuum leakage, thus maintaining a high vacuum pressure inside the suction cup.

Their ZPD suction unit is energy-efficient, smaller and lighter than traditional suction units.

The researchers tested their unit with three different suction sizes and applications: on a robotic arm to grip and handle objects, on a hexapod wall-climbing robot and as a Spider-Man-like wall-climbing device.

“The next step in this research is to cut down water consumption. If the water consumption can be reduced, the suction unit will work for a very long time with little water so that the wall-climbing robot could carry its own water instead of being connected to a supply,” said Li.

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