Improved Vacuum Assist Climber

A group of Utah State University mechanical and aerospace engineering students pulled out their best superhero tricks, using engineering principals, some basic math and a lot of ingenuity, to design a system for special operations force personnel to scale buildings or mountain faces under a variety of conditions. The students’ efforts were part of the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Design Challenge. The design was a success that garnered the group first place in the national competition.

The Utah State University team was the only team to get all four military personnel to the top of the 90-foot wall.

Using three components — a vacuum ascender, an adhesive anchor and a rope ascender ­— the Utah State University team took its design to the National Center for Medical Readiness training facility in April to compete against 16 universities that included Arizona State, Johns Hopkins and Brigham Young University for the top honor.

In August 2011 teams were given the warfighter-focused engineering design challenge, $20,000 for materials and fabrication and nine months to come up with a demonstrable solution. Teams were judged on both objective measures (weight, size, velocity achieved) and subjective measures (ease of operation, usability, stealth, innovation and elegance).

The team ended up with a design that allows a person to put their hands and feet into a spider like vacuum contraption allowing them to climb a wall. After reaching the top of the wall, the climber then places adhesive anchors on the top of the structure before sending down a rope strong enough to hold 300 pounds with which the other team members are able to ascend the wall.

“We went into this competition not knowing what the requirements were going to be,” said TJ Morton, mechanical and aerospace engineering student and team captain. “The competition allowed us to use everything we had learned about in our engineering courses and apply it to a genuine design problem.”

During the course of the school year, the team went through several trial and error ideas before coming up with the one that worked.

The Ascending Aggies received a $100,000 grant from the Air Force, in addition to their $50,000 prize winnings, to continue refining the device.

Some of the upgrades to the device will be to make it lighter, as the team told Desert News it was heavier than they had hoped.

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