Machine Design

Leaping Tall Buildings isn't Just for Super Heroes Anymore

Superman may not be the only one able to leap a building in a single bound thanks to graduate student in mechanical engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Nathan Ball.

Julie Kalista
Online Editor

MIT graduate student Nathan Ball, who invented a device for rapidly scaling large heights, is this year's winner of the $30,000 Lemelson-MIT Student Prize.
Photo courtesy / Lemelson MIT Program
Ball won the $30,00 Lemelson-MIT Student Prize for Atlas, a device that makes the fantasy of Superman's powers close to reality.

The Atlas rope ascender lets a fully loaded firefighter reach the top of a 30-story building in 30 seconds. This compares to the six minutes it could take to climb the stairs with 80 to 100-lbs. of equipment. The device is the size of a hand-held power tool and can lift a 250-lb. load more than 600 ft. into the air at about 10 ft./sec. on a single battery charge.

Similar to the way anchors are raised and lowered on ships, the rope-handling mechanism produces a tighter grip each time the rope wraps around a cylinder, continuously tightening as more weight is applied. In Ball's patent-pending design, the rope is between 3/8-and-5/8-in. in diameter. This new device could be used in rescue work but also recreationally, for climbing and exploring caves. "It could eliminate the need for ladders and heavy gear," says Ball.

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