Researchers have created a new material covered in what they call "gecko structures" that can be switched between sticky and slippery in an instant. It works using "artificially produced microscopic pillars," much like the tiny hairlike setae that cover gecko feet and create friction against whatever surface the lizard wants to climb. When these structures are extended, the new material exhibits gecko-like stickiness; flatten or retract them, and the grip is removed. Unlike suction cups, this process works in a vacuum. Unlike adhesives like tape and glue, there's no possibility of any residue left behind, and the gecko material will stick and unstick tens of thousands of times.
These properties make this material attractive to manufacturers of things like computer components and lenses, which must be manufactured by the thousands yet handled gingerly and far from contamination by chemicals in the air or on the tools. It'll probably be a while before this interesting material finds its way to the consumer world, but in the meantime it will aid in the production of devices we use every day. The research was conducted at the Leibniz Institute for New Materials in Germany.