20 February 2007

Rapid Ascent for Rescue and Assault Teams

As a climber and spelunker, I have reason to utilise "jumar" climbing devices from time to time. But firefighters and military/police assault teams often need to ascend several hundred feet very rapidly--more rapidly than even climbing stairs, much less using jumars. MIT engineering students have developed a rapid ascending device that allows the lifting of a 250 pound weight 30 stories (300 feet ++) at ten feet per second--or about 30 seconds.
The students founded a company, Atlas Devices, based in Cambridge, MA, to commercialize the device, which is about the size of a power drill. Nathan Ball, Atlas's chief technology officer, says that such a device has never been made before because the batteries and motors needed to generate enough power for rapid rope ascents have been bulky and heavy. Atlas's 20-pound machine uses a fast-charging, high-power-density lithium-ion battery made by A123 Systems, based in Watertown, MA. (See "More Powerful Batteries.") To use the device, a soldier or rescue worker wraps a rope around its cylinder and clips it to a harness worn around the waist.

The next time I find myself several hundred feet down a vertical cave, I will no doubt use jumars to ascend. But I'll be wishing I had something faster.

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