Student makes Batman's wall-scaling device a reality

MIT student invents device that allow people to scale walls at 10 feet per second. The resulting start-up already has Army contract for $120,000.

Batman beware.

A 23-year-old MIT student has devised a gizmo that allows a mere mortal to climb up a rope as fast as 10 feet per second and scale the side of a building, reports the Associated Press

Nate Ball has won Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Lemelson-MIT Student Prize for inventing a battery-powered, handheld tool that would help firefighters and soldiers climb the sides of buildings.

"It's neat to be able to create a real-life engineering solution that has the actual functionality described in the fantastic situations you see on Batman and with James Bond," said Ball, an MIT graduate student who spends his spare time rock-climbing and pole-vaulting.

After winning the student prize, Ball, in collaboration with three fellow MIT students, created the Powered Rope Ascender, a product of the start-up company they founded, Atlas Devices.

The Powered Rope Ascender uses high-density, lithium-ion batteries. The device, including its harness, weighs 20 pounds and can propel a person up an anchored rope at 10 feet per second, Ball said. It also can be used to climb down.

The device functions in much the same way as ship's anchor, using a capstan and tightly wound rope. Rollers constrain the rope if more weight is applied to the line. A trigger controls the rate of ascent or descent.

"The challenge is making a mechanism that can continuously pull the rope up reliably with an easy way to clip it in, and without having it chew up the rope," said Ball, a mechanical engineering student from Newport, Ore.

The U.S. Army has contracted to buy the first prototypes for $120,OO0.

"There are some very compelling homeland defense applications," she said. "It's about as fast as an elevator, so it's faster than using a traditional winch," said Lisa Shaler-Clark, an Army Research Office technology transfer specialist.

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