Ask Nathan Ball about his battery-powered rope ascender and needle-free injection technology projects

Ask Nathan Ball about his battery-powered rope ascender and needle-free injection technology projects

Nathan Ball Photo 2 (500 Pixels Wide)
Atlas 2A
Nathan Ball who made this battery-powered rope ascender (and needle-free injection technology projects) that’s making its way around the news sites agreed to answer questions from MAKE readers, so post up your questions in the comments and once we get a enough good ones we’ll pass them along and post the questions & answers back here…

Pictured here –

Nathan Ball, hangs 50 feet in mid-air from his battery-powered rope ascender, a device that can raise more than 250 pounds at 10 feet per second. Ball is the 2007 winner of the $30,000 Lemelson-MIT Student Prize, an award that recognizes students at MIT who have demonstrated remarkable inventiveness.

The Rope Ascender created by Atlas Devices is a powerful new tool that enables “reverse rappelling” up buildings and other vertical surfaces at unprecedented speeds.

Atlas Devices, LLC – Link.

Ok Makers, ask some good ones.

18 thoughts on “Ask Nathan Ball about his battery-powered rope ascender and needle-free injection technology projects

  1. BrK says:

    Here is a question:
    That harness looks like it hurts! Does it?

    Or another:
    What is the VA rating of the batteries, and the current consumption of the motor(s)? Put another way, up how many feet of rope can it pull a 200lb person?

    Or another:
    I would assume there is some sort of a deadlock/anti-reverse mechanism that doesn’t rely on battery power, can you describe that mechanism in more detail?

  2. Ichimonji says:

    Are you working on UL listing or NFPA approval?

  3. Ichimonji says:

    Does the unit control the descent as well? What is the descent speed? Will it “free wheel” descend if desired?

    Can you lock it off and maintain position on the rope?

  4. bahro says:

    I don’t have a question, but Nathan Ball is an alumni of the High School I currently go to. I think that’s pretty cool.

  5. o-tang says:

    Will the rope ascender re-charge the batteries if you decend? :)

    If you had “unlimited” resources for a project/device, what would it be?

  6. says:

    How about a remote unit to send loads up without having to ride along or to pull loads up an incline. Cool idea… I have a capstan winch that attaches to a chainsaw.
    My question is why is your website so slow?
    What’s the price of the unit?

  7. says:

    Okay… about my last remarks.
    your website just loaded and is seems you already make a remote control unit… kudos to you.

  8. Nohbudy says:

    What were the major roadblocks did you have to face in designing a working product?

    What was your inspiration? Was it out of need, or it just a good idea that came to mind?

    How is this product useful? In the creation of this product, what primary use did you have in mind? (ie. Firefighting, window washing, lazy-man’s rock climbing?)

  9. samurai1200 says:

    Ok, here’s mine:

    Is the tie really necessary?

    Is the pool background photoshopped in?


    What’s the thickest (or more interestingly, thinnest) gauge wire the unit will ascend under load (~200lbs)? What about material-wise (standard rope, steel cables, yarn)?

    and maybe a re-iteration:

    Fail-safe mechanism(s)?

  10. dpdelcollo says:

    Someone is going to be screening/editing these questions before they end up in Nathan’s inbox right? Some of the questions that have been asked are answered by looking closely at the available pictures and info on the Atlas Devices Website:

    There is an obvious passive ratchet pawl near the top of the device that prevents the rope from slipping backwards. It’s the same type of pawl that you see on lots of climbing equipment. In order to descend, you have to manually hold the pawl away from the rope. It will automatically lock off to prevent back slipping.

    It looks like a regular climbing harness that he is wearing. They are only uncomfortable if you are wearing them wrong.

    The pool is not photoshopped in, it’s an indoor pool, and was probably used because it has a high freestanding ceiling to ascend rather than because it is a pool or because it makes a cool background.

    The inspiration for creating the ascender was built for
    The Soldier Design Competition for the US Army, hosted by the Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies (ISN) at MIT.
    (Taken from the Atlas Designs website)
    The challenge presented was to create a Powered Rope Ascender suitable for use by the army. ATLAS successfully built a working ascender with truly impressive capabilities, and was awarded the SAIC prize for their efforts.

    I’m quite impressed with the cams on the output shaft. Quite often ascenders use teeth to grip the rope sheath which will eventually cause wear on the rope. Your design seems to solve many of the classical problems with ascenders. Can we see more detailed pictures of these cams and how the rope runs through them?

    Can you tell us more about the motor that you use in terms of power supply and output? Were early prototypes based on cordless hand drills? How successful were they and how closely related to modern hand drills is the featured version?

    I was unable to find any info or pictures of your needle-free injection projects. Can we see or know more about them?

  11. -soapy- says:

    Did anyone do a risk assessment on having that tie so close to a powerful winch system?

    Seems like a neat toy, I’ll have to build one.

    Does this need a free end, or does it clip onto the rope from the side? Does it travel along as well as up and down? (I mean, if the rope were a rope bridge not vertical)

    The needle free stuff sounds far more humanitarian in use. Does it bother you that this rope climber is for killing people, and getting others close enough to kill?

  12. RussNelson says:

    How many times did you make the sudden descent into the pool?

  13. screaminscott says:

    You know, I’d love to learn more about this company and this device.

    But I just don’t have time to sit around and wait for their website to respond.

  14. Imaginator says:

    Can you please tell me how to get one of these devices… better yet, how to get 10 of them. Thanks.

  15. outofcontrolrob says:

    This rope powered ascender looks cool, but have you seen the powerquick ascender? its been around for like 2 years and lifts like 500 lbs! their website is

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