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Story Highlights
  • Engineering students created a Batman-like device that pulls a person straight up a vertical incline for an Air Force Research Lab Competition.
  • The students created contraption as part of their Senior Capstone Course.
  • BYU will be competing against 17 universities and three service academies in Ohio from April 16-20 to see if their engineering solution is the best.
Team brought comic-book superhero technology to real life

A team of BYU engineering students used a Batman-like device as inspiration for a Capstone project that recently hooked them a Top-3 finish at a national competition.

The students created a grappling hook device that shoots from a firearm and pulls a person vertically in the air more than 90 feet, just like the Dark Knight is known to do from time to time.

The project was part of the annual BYU Engineering Capstone class and was presented to the Air Force Research Lab in a competition against 17 other universities and three service academies in April. The BYU team took third place.

“We used Batman as a picture of what we wanted to accomplish,” said senior William Tryon. “We’ve learned that Batman must have been really confident in his technology.”

Faculty adviser Greg Bishop added, “Batman is cool because he has no special powers. He relies only on his strength and advanced technology. Here at BYU, we get to build that technology.”

Students demonstrated their straight-out-of-the-comic-book device and pulley system at Wright State University’s Calamityville, where the Air Force Research Lab competition took place from April 16-20.

During the competition in Ohio, the team had 20 minutes to demonstrate their tool and train military representatives on how to shoot their device and use their winch system. Each competing university was to get three people up a 90-foot vertical incline while carrying 300 pounds each.

BYU was one of only a few schools in the competition that successfully lifted individuals the required 90-foot height.

“The Air Force wants to be able to go to higher heights, to new surfaces and to be able to do it faster,” Bishop said. “They’ve got to be able to still do that, essentially, with either holding a weapon or a communication device.”

The BYU device ascends more than 30 feet a minute, which is faster than what Special Forces can do (keep in mind that they usually scale walls with one free hand).

The anchoring device uses a UV cured epoxy, with an LED-light array to seal the epoxy to a surface, such as a cement wall. The special epoxy can cure in five minutes instead of the 12 to 24 hours a normal epoxy requires.

In the end, the engineering students were pleased with their performance at the competition -- especially with some of the final tweaks they made to their device.

“It’s really pretty cool and takes no effort at all,” student Dave Monk said. “It’s a little unnatural because you really have to do nothing but push a little button, and as long as there is some tension on the rope, up you go.”

The engineering solution was completed as part of the annual BYU Capstone course. This year 32 mechanical engineering student teams took on unique projects for sponsoring companies, coming up with solutions for each by applying principles from their engineering courses.