Andy Torbet goes Beyond Bionic to match the climbing skills of the gecko lizard as he takes on a challenge to climb a ten-storey building using just his hands and feet.
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Have you ever wondered what it would be like
if humans had the super skills of animals?
But who would be crazy enough to try and fly like a falcon,
grip like the gorilla
and swim like a shark?
I'm Andy Torbet and this is Beyond Bionic,
the show where I try and match the skills of some of nature's most
Action is Andy's middle name.
I mean, it's Thomas, but...
And now, I'm using my super skills to take on nature's superheroes
in the biggest challenge of my life.
And don't worry, I'm hanging around
to make sure he doesn't do anything too extreme.
Today, the Beyond Bionic team set me an impossible challenge
as I attempt to climb this sheer glass building
using just my hands and feet.
Just getting ready to climb.
Well, you do love to go where no-one's gone before.
It's time to go Beyond Bionic.
What could possibly go wrong?
Today, I'm up against a real superhero of the natural world
and one of the best climbers in the animal kingdom.
Let me guess, it's a squirrel?
No, no, a tree-climbing leopard?
Aw, it's got to be a monkey, right?
This animal can climb just about anything,
thanks to its amazing ability to stick to any surface.
So it's a spider?
BUZZER Oh, I got it!
A stick insect?
I'm talking about this little fellow.
Oh, yeah, I knew that.
Check out his super cool eyebrows.
Now, I'm not a bad climber.
I've climbed all over the world,
up mountains, waterfalls, even icebergs.
But a gecko can climb vertically...
Look at him go!
He's making this look easy!
..even upside down.
Yep, that's not so easy.
OK, now I'm impressed.
Shame you haven't got sticky feet, Andy!
And they can do all this at speed, with almost no effort.
And that's because of their specially-designed feet
The gecko really is a master climber,
so I'm really going to have to go Beyond Bionic
if I'm going to match the climbing skills of this little fella.
Geckos aren't just super-skilled climbers.
These rad reptiles are pretty amazing in other ways, too.
Most geckos don't have eyelids
and use their tongue to keep their eyes clean and moist.
You mean they can lick their own eyeballs?
Eww! That is totally gross
and I'm jealous and I wish I could.
Geckos are masters of disguise and can blend in to be
Special cells in gecko skin
allow them to change colour by sensing their surroundings.
Now that is clever. Who needs clothes?
And their skin provides a tasty snack.
Geckos regularly shed their skin and then gobble it up as it's packed
with nutrients and stops predators picking up clues to where they are.
"Mm, skin crisps," said no-one ever.
The Beyond Bionic team have given me the challenge of matching the gecko
sticky step for sticky step up this ten-storey, 52 metre-high building.
Oh, that's hilarious. You guys have really excelled yourselves!
And they don't like to make things easy.
This building has a central column
made out of 400 panes of super-smooth glass
which is impossible for a human being to climb.
A real Mission: Impossible. I love it.
The smooth surface means that there's nothing for my hands
and feet to hold on to.
But that wouldn't bother a gecko.
They could run straight up here, no problem.
So, to make the impossible possible, I need to transform my body
using science and technology
to go Beyond Bionic and climb like a gecko.
Smashing. What could possibly go wrong?
Before I even think about going up against the gecko on glass,
I want to know how my normal climbing skills stack up
against this little lizard on rock.
So I've come to Gordale Scar in North Yorkshire
to test myself on some of the toughest climbing routes in the UK.
I caught the climbing bug when I was just 14.
But the ability to climb like a gecko
would open a world of possibilities.
It's every climber's dream to be able to climb anything,
any place, any time.
Can I match the gecko up a sheer rock face?
There's only one way to find out.
Great twirling skills there!
Let's climb, gecko boy.
I've done my research
and a gecko climbs at about one metre every second.
So this cliff is about 40 metres high,
so that should take a gecko about 40 seconds,
so let's see how I get on.
# Go, Andy, go, Andy, go, Andy. #
This limestone rock face is the perfect surface for me to climb,
as there's plenty of places for me to put my hands and feet.
But geckos don't need hand and foot holds to climb.
They have an amazing ability to stick to any surface
thanks to millions of tiny hairs on their toes.
And here I've been shaving my toes like a fool!
Well, I think I've been climbing for about four minutes now
and I'm not even halfway up.
A gecko would have been up and down here,
lapping me six or seven times already.
So compared to a gecko, your climbing is like crawling?
Geckos have such good sticking power
that they can hang their entire body weight from one toe.
When I climb, I have to support my body weight with my fingers and toes
as I pull and push myself up the cliff.
It takes real physical effort and when my muscles get tired...
..I fall off.
SHE HUMS MOCKINGLY
I bet a gecko doesn't find it this difficult.
I need to face facts - I can't match the gecko for climbing speed.
It's far too fast.
But I'm determined to climb like one,
so I need to up my game and find a way to make my hands and feet
I might have my work cut out to beat this exceptional climber,
but how does the gecko compare to other superstars
of the animal kingdom?
First up, sticking power.
Geckos and anole lizards both have sticky toepads on their feet
that allow them to climb up trees, walls, even glass, with ease.
It's a sticky stalemate.
But the gecko wins hands down as the combined sticking power of its feet
can support the weight of two people.
That's 100 times its own body weight.
Yeah, stick it to 'em!
When it comes to climbing,
the tree frog gives the gecko a run for its money.
But the tree frog can't produce enough mucus in their feet
to stick to dry or rough materials,
which means the gecko is always one step ahead.
Whoa. Snotty feet?
Can someone pass the tissues?
It's geckos versus leopards when it comes to night vision.
Both use their incredible eyesight to hunt at night.
Leopards can see seven times better than humans in the dark.
I feel illuminated.
But geckos' eyes are a whopping 350 times more sensitive to light
And unlike most animals, they can see colour at night.
Gecko shades is what I need!
Animals really are nature's superheroes and I'm totally in awe.
But I'm also seriously competitive.
I hate being beaten and I like to win.
So if I'm going to stand a chance against the strongest,
fastest and best-designed animals in the world,
I need their super skills.
And how do I do that?
I'm going around the world
to find the latest in cutting-edge technology
and the experts who can help me transform my body
and go Beyond Bionic.
I've been set the ultimate gecko climbing challenge.
This, I got to see.
How are you going to stick like me?
I'm going to scale a ten-storey glass building
using just my hands and feet.
To help me, I'm going to rely on friction.
Like the thing where your knees slide across the carpet
and it really, really kills?
Friction is the force created between two surfaces
that are sliding, or trying to slide, across one another.
In this case, me and the building.
Friction will help me stick to the building
and stop gravity from pulling me down as I climb.
This is a real challenge,
because smooth surfaces like glass buildings
create very little friction.
Slip and slide, my friend,
slip and slide.
So I need to find something to climb with that will generate as much
friction as possible, and keep my hands and feet
stuck fast to the glass, just like a gecko.
First stop is the United States of America,
and I am heading to the town of Amherst
in the state of Massachusetts.
At the University of Massachusetts, I've discovered a team
who've developed an artificial type of gecko skin,
so I'm hoping they can help me in my mission
to climb a glass-fronted building.
I'm meeting the team biologist, Duncan Irschick,
to find out more about the gecko's amazing climbing abilities
and how their feet have inspired a brand-new type of sticky material.
So who have we got here?
This is a New Caledonian giant gecko,
it is one of the largest geckos in the world.
But how does a gecko, especially one as big as this specimen,
cling to what is a perfectly smooth piece of glass?
Because this matters to me cos I need to climb
something exactly the same as this.
They have these amazing toepads that they use to climb glass
and their toepads have all modifications...
Uh, guys, gecko on the move! Where are you going, little guy?
And I'm starting to see first-hand
just how quick these expert climbers can be.
The feet are really amazing,
and what you have on the feet are actually modified scales.
They've kind of split them up into millions of little hairs
that you can only see under a microscope.
These are called setae.
Geckos have over 2 billion setae on their feet.
That's, like, so unbelievably hairy.
These super hairs can get into very close contact with whatever surface
the gecko is climbing on.
When the two come close together,
tiny physical interactions are created called van der Waals forces.
Van der huh?
Named after the Dutch scientist who worked out some things
are stickier than others.
Got it! Loving his beard.
It's van der Waals forces that allow the gecko's feet
to become temporarily stuck
to whatever surface they're climbing on,
and they are seriously strong.
I am so geeking out on this right now.
They have tendons that go actually from muscle to skin on their feet
so when they put their feet down, their feet become extremely stiff.
That allows the van der Waals forces to be distributed more evenly.
And so Geckskin can really take a lot of those lessons about
creating adhesives that were very stiff to become very powerful,
and that's very much based on the idea of how geckos climb.
This kit definitely looks Beyond Bionic,
and I can't wait to put it to the test.
I'm hoping Geckskin can help me get one step ahead in my challenge
to climb like a gecko.
So we're going to take a piece of Geckskin here
and we're going to hang about 115kg onto this piece of glass.
Whoa, hold the weight, check out the safety shoes!
That's a lot. I mean, that's 1.5 times my weight.
And this is just regular glass? Nothing special about this at all?
That's right. Just regular glass, clean.
-Am I OK to touch this?
That's not sticky at all.
That just feels like, well, a bit of plastic.
Yeah, that's right.
And I can't believe what I'm seeing.
One small piece of plastic has over 100kg hanging off it,
and it's going nowhere.
That's pretty incredible.
OMG-for-gecko. That is amazeballs.
But even more amazing is that Geckskin has also taken inspiration
for how geckos unstick their feet.
If a gecko wants to become un-stuck in a hurry,
they simply change the angles of the hairs in their feet
by peeling back their toes,
breaking the van der Waals forces that keep them attached,
and Geckskin works in a similar way.
Do you want to take it off? That's actually the really cool thing about
Geckskin is that it can hang all this weight,
but then the minute you want to,
you can just release it with almost no force.
Get me a lab coat, people, I want to work with these dudes.
I mean, there's no doubt that is impressive stuff.
This challenge, to climb like a gecko,
is suddenly starting to look easy.
Confident! I like it.
It can hold my weight,
I can even do pull-ups on it.
Looks like you could pull a truck with it.
So how about this?
Super sports utility vehicle
constructed from over two tonnes of steel,
chrome and really, really nice leather interiors.
It even warms your butt on cold days.
Andy, you're going to need to pull like you have never pulled before.
That's a pretty good challenge, but let's ramp it up one more step.
Why don't you guys jump in and I'll try and pull you too?
OK, sounds good.
Here we go, he just can't help himself.
-Come on, Andy! Pull that!
-Come on, Andy!
Is there a problem? Did someone leave the handbrake on?
-Is the brake on?
-Are you and I in reverse? Neutral?
Oh, come on, guys!
I just hope the Geckskin sticks as well as it did in the lab.
Yeah! There we go!
-Woo, good work!
So far, so good.
This super material has allowed me to pull over two tonnes of truck.
That's the same weight as a hippopotamus.
I'm really getting into my stride.
But then I slightly change the angle at which I'm pulling
and the material instantly peels off,
bringing the challenge to a halt.
Yeah, a bad workman always blames his tools.
You need to pull straight, my friend.
I'm determined to get this right,
so it's back to it.
It's incredible that one A4-sized piece of Geckskin
is sticking so well
that I can pull all this weight.
This could give me the chance
to match the gecko's formidable climbing skills.
And how Beyond Bionic would it be to use a material
inspired by the gecko's feet to complete my challenge?
So the question is, can you make me, like, a pair of gloves,
maybe a pair of boots out of this stuff,
so I can climb a glass building?
So unfortunately, we can't do that yet.
That is a shame.
Frustratingly, I found Geckskin too early in its development
to help me climb like a gecko.
Yes, it can support my weight
and yes, it can let me pull a truck,
but that's because Geckskin works by sticking flat to the surface
it comes into contact with.
Moulding it into 3-D shapes like gloves or boots
isn't an option at the moment.
But in a few years' time, I'm sure this team of clever scientists
will have opened up a world of climbing possibilities
with their gecko-inspired material.
Such a pity.
But I'm still confident that science can give me the help I need
to complete this challenge.
So it's onwards and upwards.
The Beyond Bionic team have set me an impossible challenge -
to climb like a gecko up this 52 metre-high building
using just my hands and feet.
Geckos can climb vertically, horizontally,
even upside down on super-smooth surfaces,
whereas I need hand and foot holds to hang onto.
So I've got to find a way to transform my body
and give myself the same sticking power as this limber lizard.
I've found some incredible new inventions
that will work wonders in the future,
but I need something that works now.
Time is running out for me to find the tech to complete my challenge.
Can I beat the gecko on glass at its own game?
That is how far we have come.
That is how far we've still got to go.
Or will I go home with my tail between my legs?
My mission to match the gecko sticky step for sticky step
has brought me to the city of Boston on the East Coast of America.
I've had a tip-off that inside this big, shiny building
is a piece of suction-based tech that might just give me
the lift I need.
This is the home of Draper Laboratory,
where some of the world's most advanced engineering projects
These guys must really know their stuff.
And I'm here to meet Dave Carter, an expert in nanostructured materials,
and I can't wait to see what he's got in store.
Nah, no idea what that means, but it sounds cool!
Well, it looks like you're well on the way to having a solution
-to, er, my challenge.
-I think we do.
We have the Z-Man hybrid system here
that we can use to make a human climb.
Zee-Man, Zed-Man, tomayto, tomahto.
The Z-Man definitely looks Beyond Bionic,
and I'm definitely up for giving it a go.
You do love a harness.
-There are two of them.
-One for each hand and one for each foot.
So what you want to do is place it against the wall,
-and start to step down.
-There we go.
So you push it against the wall and step down.
The suction cups get pulled into the wall and our gecko material helps it
grip better so it doesn't slide down the wall.
-So it's a combination of suction and gecko?
That makes the Z-Man like an octopus-gecko mashup. Nice.
Octopuses use suction to stick to things underwater.
When the cups in their tentacles push down,
water is squeezed out, sucking them in.
That, plus the sticking power of a gecko,
could be just what I need to complete my challenge.
But is this tech's combined sucking and sticking power strong enough
to hold all 80kg of my weight?
It's the moment of truth.
It's a tough ask, but it seems to be working!
This is incredible.
I'm able to hang all my weight from one pad,
making my hand totally Beyond Bionic and just like a gecko's toe.
Oh, I've only got three LEDs.
You're running out of juice already, Andy?
The LEDs tell me how many of the suction cups
are fully attached to the wall.
I need all seven to be lit up for maximum sticking power.
There you go, I think you've got the hang of it.
Oh, we're there, we're there.
It's the sort of thing, you know,
you'd expect a superhero to be using.
Now is not the time to big yourself up.
And what sort of stuff can be climbed with this?
The systems are made for this sort of painted metal or glass.
This system is looking promising.
It works on flat surfaces like the building I'll be scaling.
And I feel confident that, with a bit of practice,
I stand a chance of climbing like a gecko.
Congratulations on your first gecko climb.
That is a phenomenal bit of kit.
And have these been used before to climb big, high buildings?
Yeah, we've climbed two to three storeys with it before.
Well, the plan now is to really put these to the test,
and I'm going to try and climb a ten-storey building.
No-one's done that before.
And that's why Andy's Beyond Bionic.
He goes were no human has gone before!
Which has got me thinking - what if we were all like geckos?
You'd need super large, sticky feet,
roughly the same length as your legs,
and your shoe size would be over 100.
What if you put a gecko underwater in a swimming pool?
Would it stick?
Yes, it would, because geckos' toepads can work even underwater.
They'd be no fun on a water slide.
What if a human had to clean their eyeball with their tongue,
just like a gecko?
Well, your tongue would need to be 30cm long,
the same length as a ruler.
Today, I'm going to attempt something
no human has ever done before
climb this 52 metre-high glass building just like a gecko.
I love a world-first.
And it's no ordinary building.
The Beyond Bionic team have picked
the Education First building in Boston
because it has a central waterfall
that contains 400 panes of super-smooth glass.
And I bet you didn't know that each glass panel has been placed
into position by GPS tracking,
and a team of experts including a space dude from Nasa.
No pressure, Andy!
I've come along way on this challenge.
Since meeting the gecko for the first time,
I've learnt that I can't match my opponent
when it comes to natural climbing ability.
But I have found incredible materials and technology
inspired by the super skills of animals
that can help me stick to any surface.
And now it's time for me to put those to the test
and climb, gecko-style.
It's finally challenge day and I just want to get started.
I'm super excited cos I have never climbed anything like this before.
And certainly not in the way we're going to try and climb it.
The Z-Man system is going to allow me to transform myself
into a real-life gecko
and climb up super-smooth glass using just my hands and feet.
But this is risky.
No-one's ever used it on anything bigger than a two-storey building,
and I'm going for ten.
-Yep, the rope's down.
I'm putting all my trust in technology,
as there's nothing on the building to cling to.
But there's no way I'm being beaten by a lizard, even if it is awesome.
He's all double-checked, his harness is tight.
Reminds me of ice climbs, this big static waterfall of glass.
He is getting ready to climb.
Is he on belay yet?
All right, everything's good.
Andy is all ready to go Beyond Bionic.
As I set off, it's a relief to see the seven red LED lights
which shows I'm using the panels properly
and have maximum sticking power.
It starts quite easy cos it's sloping inwards.
But after a transition onto the steep panel...
..then it starts getting hard.
It's hard work, this.
I'm hoping there is some American pancakes at the top for lunch.
Yeah, with, like, maple syrup and bananas and blueber...
Stop, you're making me hungry!
Of course, geckos don't have that problem.
When food is scarce,
they can store nutrients and calories in their tails.
In fact, that's a great way of telling how healthy a gecko is.
The fatter his tail, the healthier the gecko.
Ah, is there anything a gecko can't do?
They've even got a built-in packed lunch!
Well, it's pretty hot today
and it's hard work,
but this kit is working amazingly well.
Far better even than in the lab.
Uh, Andy, I know you're busy, but you seem to have a fan club.
OK, well, that is how far we have come.
It's not that far.
Because that is how far we've still got to go.
You can definitely do it!
Whew! But the sun is shining, and the view is beautiful.
"Come to Boston," they said.
"It'll be nice and cool in the autumn," they said.
The hot autumn weather is making this climb even harder.
But for a gecko, this weather would be perfect.
Geckos are cold-blooded animals,
which means they rely on the heat from the sun
or the surface they rest on to control their body temperature.
The colder it is,
the harder it is for geckos to get their energy to move.
But in this sunshine,
a gecko would be up this building in around 52 seconds.
What was that? Oh, it was a gecko whizzing past you!
The great thing about the Z-Man
is that you don't just have to climb up.
You can also go...
Hey, lady with the camera, back off,
he's climbing like a gecko.
This next bit is the trickiest of the lot.
So you look there.
All of the big bits of metal all meet in one centre point,
and passing that will be the hardest bit of the whole climb.
Oh, I'm not sure I can watch.
But thanks to this amazing gecko-inspired climbing system,
I am soon up,
One more step and you've done it.
Ah, Andy, you have climbed like a gecko!
That is amazing.
You really are Beyond Bionic.
Well, not as graceful,
not as efficient,
and nowhere near as fast as a gecko...
..but that was still absolutely awesome to do.
It's incredible to think
that I've matched one of the best climbers in the world,
and it's made me even more in awe of this little lizard.
You did it!
Congratulations, you big gecko boy!
I went toe to toe with one of nature's best climbers
and used some cutting-edge technology
to climb a 52 metre-high glass building,
like no other human being has done before.
There's no doubt I don't have the speed
and natural climbing ability of the gecko.
My body isn't designed to stick to any surface.
But science and technology has given me the tools to go beyond the limits
of the human body,
and go Beyond Bionic.
Andy Torbet is on the east coast of America to try to match one of the best climbers in the animal kingdom. The gecko lizard has incredible climbing abilities thanks to amazing sticky toe pads on its feet that allow it to climb on almost any surface. To match it, the Beyond Bionic team set Andy an impossible challenge to climb a ten-storey glass building using just his hands and feet. Will he be able to track down the tech to help him climb where no human has every climbed before?