Robust and inexpensive dry adhesives would have a multitude of potential applications, but replicating the impressive adhesive organs of many small animals has proved challenging. A substantial body of work has been produced in recent years which has illuminated the many mechanical processes influencing a dry adhesive interface. The especially potent footpads of the tokay gecko have inspired researchers to develop and examine an impressive and diverse collection of artificial fibrillar dry adhesives, though study of tree frogs and insects demonstrate that successful adhesive designs come in many forms. This review discusses the current theoretical understanding of dry adhesive mechanics, including the observations from biological systems and the lessons learned by recent attempts to mimic them. Attention is drawn in particular to the growing contingent of work exploring ideas which are complimentary to or an alternative for fibrillar designs. The fundamentals of compliance control form a basis for dry adhesives made of composite and “smart,” stimuli-responsive materials including shape memory polymers. An overview of fabrication and test techniques, with a sampling of performance results, is provided.
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