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Atlas Devices and Draper Laboratory Z-Man Climbing Technologies Demonstrated at DARPA D60 in Washington, DC

Last week, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) held a symposium in celebration of their 60th anniversary in Washington, DC. The symposium—naturally called `D60’—included exhibits from each of DARPA’s six research offices, as well as several speakers and 30 themed breakout sessions over a period of three days. The event highlighted past and present DARPA funded research and technologies ranging from aerial reconnaissance to cybersecurity with everything in between.

Atlas Devices is honored to have been invited to exhibit at D60 in the Gaylord National Harbor Convention Center. Our world-famous “Tower of Power” triple-tier stack of steel shipping containers was setup in the Defense Sciences Office (DSO) section of the exhibit hall floor. Partnered with our friends from Draper Laboratory, we projected the spirit of the DARPA Z-Man program via interactive climbing demonstrations.

The Tower of Power, most recently showcased at SOFIC back in May, was outfitted with customized steel and polycarbonate sheets to allow climbers to utilize both the Atlas Pirate Paddles magnetic climbing system, as well as the Draper Hybrid Climbing system. The Draper Hybrid system utilizes mechanically-evacuated suction cups coupled with a synthetic grip material inspired by the feet of a Gecko to stick to smooth surfaces. The Atlas Pirate Paddles use powerful magnets to adhere to ferromagnetic surfaces for both climbing and anchoring. The Pirate Paddles were initially developed by Draper but were handed off to Atlas as the transition partner for the final stages of development.

The DARPA Z-Man program was initiated with the vision of developing mechanical climbing systems inspired by nature. Indeed, both systems afford humans the unique opportunity to scale nonstandard climbing surfaces from the ground under their own power. Previously, throughout virtually all of history, it has been incredibly difficult for people to climb smooth and, in some cases, convex surfaces. Even where possible, it would at the very least require heavy tools and equipment to drill holes and establish anchors or “protection” along the way up. Obviously, this method is time consuming, loud, exhaustive, and leaves permanent scars. The climbing systems we demonstrated at D60 are simple, quiet, light, and leave no trace, giving them countless applications in defense, rescue, and industrial access. The Z-Man program has produced products that allow enhanced vessel boarding, tower climbing, and ad hoc anchor setting in areas such as elevator shafts and on water towers. We would like to thank everyone who made this project possible, and those who stopped by the exhibit to share and learn.

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Atlas Devices Outreach at Boy Scouts of America 2018 New Hampshire State Jamboree

Recently, Atlas Devices was invited to participate in the New Hampshire Boy Scout Jamboree. The BSA Jamboree, which is held in the state every four years, brings together Scout Troops from across New England for a weekend of camping, tradition, and activities. This year, the Jamboree was held at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon on May 4th-6th. The event organizers asked if we would demonstrate some of our equipment for the participants on Saturday, May 5th. We were to be among dozens of other exhibitors in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) camp. Other camps that were present in and around the race track included a shooting sports camp, a high adventure camp with a climbing wall, a First Responders camp, and an aviation camp.

I was especially excited to be able to participate because I am an Eagle Scout from Troop 459 in Lee, NH and attended the NH Jamboree as a Scout back when it was held at Gunstock Mountain Resort. I have always felt that my time in Scouting has helped direct me in my adult life, and I continue to use the skills I learned in my professional career. The Co-Founder and COO of Atlas Devices, Dan Walker—who is also an Eagle Scout, even joked that it was the reason I was hired. To make this outreach opportunity even better, we received permission from the NH Motor Speedway to rig our ropes to their 85 foot steel display tower in the race track infield.

With a car packed full of demo gear, banners, and swag, we got an early start from Boston and were inside the track by 8 AM. We began by harnessing up and climbing the tower to set our ropes and banner. At the top, we had an excellent view of the entire speedway and surrounding areas. Nearby campsites were ravaged by wind which had been blowing 50+ mph since the prior evening. Several race cars and a few motorcycles were practicing on the track for most of the day, and a Black Hawk helicopter made several flyovers. The wind proved a nuisance, but we were up and running by 9 AM with an ascender line, a safety line, an Atlas Tactical Ladder (ATL) setup, and a REBS Compact Launcher with grappling hook projectile on display.

At first, it appeared to many as if we were a utility crew repairing the tower, but eventually several scouts, their leaders, and families came over to see what we had going on. We explained various methods of rapid access and rescue to them, incorporating the gear we had on hand. To facilitate interaction, we allowed the Scouts to use an APA-5 Wireless Remote to control one of us on the Ascender. One Scout in particular could not get enough, and declared he was going to stay with us all day (which he just about did). Zipping up and down the height of the tower caught some more attention, including that of the University of the New Hampshire Wildcats mascot and one of the Jamboree organizers in a “Tommy T-Rex” costume, both of whom we hooked to the APA-5 for a ride up the tower. A reporter from the Union Leader took photos for a story released later that weekend—highlighting the fact that 3,600 Scouts were in attendance!

In the afternoon, we handed out the rest of our stickers and bracelets and began packing up. We were visited again by an event organizer who thanked us with a card and 2018 Jamboree patch. Since many of the other activities were still going on, we decided to browse the rest of the STEM camp. Inside the nearby garage, they were offering welding instruction and showing off robotic submerged vehicles. In the parking lot, the New Hampshire Astronomical Society had several telescopes tracking the sun, capturing the solar corona. We are very grateful to have had the opportunity to be part of the Jamboree, and look forward to participating in similar outreach programs in the future.