Powered Rope Ascender

Project Type: Propulsion and Levitation

Project Information

Project Description:

Powered Rope AscenderThe task is to design and build your own version of the amazing ATLAS rope ascender capable of hoisting a 250 pound payload at a rate of 10 feet/sec. The lightweight machine is a tight integration of rechargeable batteries, high-power-density motor, high-torque transmission, and a custom rope spindle, shown on the right.  The goal is to make the assembly safe for trained individuals to scale a 3-story vertical surface under power and return to the ground in a safe decent.  Student team members wishing to use the rope ascender must obtain parental consent and pass a professionally administered rock-climbing class for adults.

Level of Difficulty: High


torque, tension, brushed dc motor, brushless dc motor, pulse-width modulation, lead-acid battery, nickel-cadmium battery, lithium-ion battery, amp-hour, gearbox, transmission, belay, carabiner, rappel, grigri, jumar, prusik knot, klemheist knot, Bachmann knot, bowline knot, double fisherman’s knot


“MIT Graduate Wins $30,000 Prize for Building Climbing Device,” Phys.org, February 14, 2007, http://phys.org/news90742306.html

Team Roles

Electrical Engineer (3) – Electrical Engineers on the project are responsible for the selection of the motor and power system needed to hoist the payload at a rate of 10 feet/sec.  The power system includes the choice of a rechargeable battery that can withstand high discharge rates without excessive heating and be recharged quickly.  Control of the motor speed by a trigger or other device is essential for a safe ascent.  Battery pack temperature instrumentation will be provided, which will stop the motor if the temperature becomes too high.

Mechanical Engineer (3) – Mechanical Engineers on the project are responsible for designing and building the drive train that includes a high-torque speed reducer and a capstan-style rope screw, which converts motor torque to climbing tension in the rope.  Additionally, the Mechanical Engineers will design the machine’s housing and its attachment to a harness carrying the climber.

Physicist (2) – Physicists on the project are responsible for the rope selection and all safety testing.  Items to be certified safe are the rope, climber’s harness, maximum machine payload, minimum recharge time, and maximum battery operating temperature.  Furthermore, the Physicists will design the emergency escape system that allows the climber to quickly disengage from the ascender and rappel down a parallel safety line.

Designer (2) – The Designers on the project work with the other technical sub-teams to tightly integrate the motor, battery packs, speed reducer, electronic speed controller, and capstan rope screw into an enclosed package.  The unit must be safe to operate, easy to recharge, and able to be maintained.

Journalist (1) – The Journalist documents the project’s progress on the website, communicates with the local media, and is responsible for a final report to the principal sponsors and Power Mountain Engineering.  The Journalist also works closely with the Multimedia Artist to provide video and graphic art displays for demonstrations that explain the project to the public.  The whole project is your project.

Multimedia Artist (1) – The Artist also documents the project’s progress on the website and works with the Journalist to maintain the project’s presence on social media.  Additionally, the Artist designs and organizes all public relations events to assure spectator safety and to enhance the community’s awareness of science and technology.  In this case, spectators will not be able to ride the rope ascender because they are untrained and uninsured.  The whole project is your project.

Business Manager (1) – The Business Manager is responsible for reporting the project’s progress against a predetermined schedule, determines critical path items to completion, and tracks project spending to assure that costs remain within a fixed budget.  The Manager works with all team members to identify problems early and resolve them quickly.  In this case, sale of the ascender at auction will be prohibited because it is a close copy of a commercial product.  Construction of the ascender was for educational purposes only.  The whole project is your project.

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