Down the road, this "photoswitchable" design could lead to robotic hands and feet that become instantly sticky when the 'bot needs to grab something, or climb a vertical surface, or freak out adjacent humans.
It works like this: The top layer of the BIPMTD surface dotted with pillar-shaped adhesive microstructures, which are rooted in a middle layer of liquid crystalline elastomer (LCE) containing the photoresponsive material azobenzene.
When the azobenzene is hit with UV light, the molecules instantly reconfigure, bending the adhesive pillars away from the surface. This detaches the object or surface from the BIPMTD grabber, kind of like peeling off a sticker. What's more, the intensity of the UV light causes more or less curvature, depending, which can allow for various levels of adhesive strength.
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The whole system is based on the mechanics of how geckos move around. Gecko feet are covered in non-sticky spatula-shaped fibers that can switch instantly to an adhesive state, allowing quick detachment and attachment. When a gecko plants its foot, the sticky stuff kicks in, allowing it to adhere to a vertical surface. But when it lifts its legs to move, a biological detachment mechanism engages that's entirely automated, as it were, by the lizard's nervous system.