The lizard’s sticky toes could help the car company reduce its environmental footprint.
Via Wikimedia Commons user Bernard Dupont
There are few things more dissimilar than a Ford Explorer and a tokay gecko, a small lizard native to Southeast Asia. But Ford says the gecko is inspiring an important new vehicle technology, one that could make it easier to recycle auto parts and reduce the company’s environmental footprint.
The tokay gecko has a special power: It can use its unique toe pads to support up to 239 pounds on its 2.5-ounce frame. These strong pads also allow the lizard to stick to most surfaces, even without the help of liquids or surface tension.
If Ford can create a gecko-inspired glue to hold its car parts together, the company believes that it will be easier to disassemble and then reuse old car parts.
For Ford, cracking the secret of the tokay gecko toe could mean boosting recycling rates for its vehicles by a full 10%. A gecko toe-inspired adhesive would allow the car manufacturer to better separate the mishmash of plastics and foams leftover after a car is stripped of its metal insides. “If we could separate it, if we could identify different streams within it, we would stand a much better chance of being able to utilize them for higher-end applications,” said Debbie Mielewski, the senior technical leader for plastics and sustainability research at Ford.
The technology is being helped along by research partnerships with Procter & Gamble and the Biomimicry Institute, a nonprofit organization that works to promote “nature’s solutions” in other design contexts.
This would not be the first time that a major company uses biomimicry techniques to improve its products. Velcro, invented by a Swiss engineer in the 1940s, takes cues from the small hooks of burr needles. Sharkskin inspired the design of high-tech, competition-level swimsuits. And the shape of Japan’s famously fast bullet trains was inspired by the bird-watching of a Japanese engineer, who guessed that a kingfisher’s elegant bill allows the bird to quickly and cleanly cut through water.