In a development that sounds like it’s straight out of a sci-fi horror movie, a group of eight engineering students at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zürich has created a nightmarish new robot called Magnecko. This four-legged terror is capable of scaling walls and even crawling across ceilings using its magnetic clodhoppers. While its appearance might be unsettling, the purpose behind its creation is practical: Magnecko is designed to assist industrial workers and engineers with inspections and repairs on tall metal structures.
Industrial and maritime environments often require regular inspections, but accessing confined and narrow spaces can be challenging and hazardous for humans. Although aerial drones can help, their limited battery life restricts their usefulness. Magnecko aims to overcome these limitations, provided that the structure it needs to traverse is magnetic.
The robot’s magnetic feet are its main feature, capable of holding up to 2.5 times its own weight. This impressive strength allows Magnecko to adhere firmly to metal surfaces and move with ease. While it currently relies on remote operation, the robot can follow a pre-set path without constant guidance, hinting at potential future autonomy.
The team behind Magnecko was inspired by wall-climbing gecko lizards, evident from the name itself. The project’s website highlights the robot’s mission to address the challenges of remote visual inspections in tricky spaces. Its insect-style configuration provides flexibility in positioning itself, making it a versatile tool for various tasks.
As practical as Magnecko’s applications may seem, there is a significant concern surrounding its potential use for surveillance. The robot’s ability to scale structures and its extended battery life make it an appealing candidate for reconnaissance purposes. The creators are well aware of this possibility and don’t shy away from discussing the controversial use case. They acknowledge that the robot’s magnetic feet can allow it to remain suspended in one spot for extended periods without consuming power.
Currently, the primary focus is on preparing Magnecko for inspection work. However, the team is not ruling out the possibility of future automation, including autonomous maintenance and remotely operated repairs. With the capacity to support substantial payloads and its insect-like agility, the robot shows great promise for various industrial applications.
While Magnecko represents a significant advancement in robotics and engineering, its potential for surveillance raises ethical concerns. Striking the right balance between innovation and responsible use will be crucial as we move forward with these groundbreaking technologies.