by David Peters How do you climb a vertical concrete wall if you haven't been bitten by a radio-active spider? Well the students at Arizona State University have come up with a solution that would even make Spidey do a double take. In the fall of 2011, the Air Force Research Laboratory presented a challenge to 16 universities across the country. The task: to develop a system that will enable airmen to climb rock faces and concrete/adobe walls of 60 feet or higher, preferably without the need to grapple over the top edge of the structure. The winning device would be reusable, accommodate a 300-pound load, permit multiple pitches during the climb and be faster or less strenuous than current climbing methods - all while allowing the operator to do other tasks while climbing, including using a weapon, radio or other equipment. The challenge was to design a system allowing a team of four Special Operations Force personnel to scale buildings or mountain faces under a variety of conditions. The teams were given $20,000 for research and development and a short list of system parameters -- for instance, a system maximum weight of 20 pounds, with a goal of 5 pounds. Systems would be judged on both objective measures (weight, size, velocity achieved) and subjective measures (ease of operation, usability, stealth, innovation and elegance). Whew! Although this might seem to be a tall order for a group of engineering college seniors, the boys at Arizona State University, in Tempe, stepped up to the challenge. They started out with one of our hand cups, but it soon became evident that the cup, in and of itself, would be insufficient to meet the Air Force system requirements. Team members Kyle Barrette, Scott Goodin, Robert Morales, Rafael Ramirez, Kevin Scott, Zach Wilson and Johnathon Wright decided that it was time to consult with experts on vacuum, so they contacted Chief Engineer, Gary Bond, at Wood's Powr-Grip®. After discussing the project with them, Gary sent out vacuum pads, solenoids, switches, and other vacuum related pieces and parts to get them going in the right direction. Several months passed with no contact from the ASU project members. Then, while Mr. Bond was at a meeting in Phoenix in January of 2012, he decided to take a short detour and look in on the project. Gary rented a car and drove to the University to visit with team members. After just a few minutes of conversation, he got the distinct impression that the boys had given up on vacuum. Well, the long and short of it is, you don't give up on vacuum in front of a guy that is convinced that vacuum is an omnipotent panacea for all the world's challenges. Gary steered them towards the size and type of vacuum pad they would need to support the weight outlined in the project guidelines, suggesting WPG's 6" x 25" cladding pads with foam inserts. For several hours, he extolled the merits of vacuum and answered all questions the team members presented. New life was breathed into the effort. Since the project would require walking on vertical walls, it was appropriately named the Spiderman (SM7) Project. The ASU team ordered the cladding pads and several other custom parts from WPG. To help meet the weight requirement, the aluminum parts of the cladding pads were replaced with plastic substitutes. The team worked feverishly to refine the design and iron out the bugs. And then, on April 16, 2012, the moment of truth had arrived. Engineering teams from the 16 universities converged on Wright State University's Calamityville Tactical Laboratory in Fairborn, Ohio to showcase their inventions. OK, Arizona State University didn't win, but they did earn fourth place accolades. Oh, and team members got to be part of a Best Buy laptop computer promotion. The moral of the story is that three of the top four climbing solutions involved the use of vacuum as the most practical solution. Perhaps Mr. Bond's thinking isn't far off the mark - vacuum really is the omnipotent panacea for all the world's challenges. Of course, here at Wood's Powr-Grip, we already knew that.
David Peters had more than 30 years experience in sales and marketing. He was the marketing associate for Wood's Powr-Grip Co., Inc., responsible for interactive marketing, tracking, market research and new product introduction.
AFRL Wall Climbing Competition - ASU Spiderman