There are a whole range of scenarios, from security- or surveillance-related situations to natural disasters, in which it could be really useful to have a robot that can climb walls. But the idea gets so much traction because it’s also just flat-out cool.

We’ve covered the efforts to design machines that scale vertical surfaces using techniques borrowed from geckos, and another that uses vacuum forces. But this weekend, at a major robotics conference, researchers from SRI International will be discussing a different approach: electro-adhesion.

The SRI robots can clamp on to glass, wood, brick, concrete and more by using electrostatic charges generated by a battery. The materials used are compliant, so their robots can attach to just about any surface – rough and dusty or clean and flat.

In the future, they say the technology could allow humans to climb walls, too, whether they be Special Forces operatives or window cleaners.