Jun 02 2014
Utah State University’s (USU) engineering department student researchers have been at the forefront of efforts for the past three years to answer technology challenges issued by the U.S. Air Force.
As one of 16 universities accepted into the Air Force Research Laboratory’s design challenge, USU students have developed three different systems that might be used by Air Force troops in the field — a mobile bridge that fits in a backpack, a wall-climbing vacuum device, and a multi-stage jack that can lift up to 45,000 pounds.
Byard Wood, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and head of the university’s Capstone Design Program, says the Research Laboratory’s Office of Air Force Scientific Research presents a new problem to be solved every year.
“You have to design a system from scratch that solves the problem,” he says. “This is the most difficult competition I’ve been involved in.”
Last year, the university’s design team was awarded first place in the competition for BAMBI (Break Apart Mobile Bridging Infiltration), a device that servicemembers can use to scale walls or bridge a gap.
“It’s a simple design made of carbon fiber that weighs 27 pounds,” Wood says, “which can cross a 20 foot gap and hold up to 350 pounds. BAMBI gets its strength from the carbon fiber used in its construction and can be disassembled and put in a backpack.”
BAMBI also has additional functions, Wood notes, such as an emergency transport system or a back brace for an injured person.
In the Air Force’s 2012 challenge, a team of Utah State University engineering student researchers came up with a device that use a vacuum system to aid in climbing a 90-foot wall.
“The system uses two vacuum pads with stirrups attached to them,” Wood says. “The climber steps into the stirrups and uses the pads to ascend the wall, much as a someone would using jumar ascenders on a climbing rope. We were the only team to get someone up to the climbing height and received a $100,000 grant from the Air Force to develop the system further.”
This year, the USU team is designing a lifting system that allows one or two people to raise a disabled 45,000 pound vehicle in such a way that personnel or equipment could be extricated from underneath it.
“We have two solutions,” Byard notes. “One is an airbag that is much lighter than traditional airbags where we use a rubberized plastic bag with structural fiber around it to provide strength. The other is a multi-stage jack with shoring bars that can raise the vehicle 48 inches.”
All the students in the mechanical and aerospace engineering department take part in the challenge, which USU includes as part of its two-semester Capstone Design program.
About the author: Alan M. Petrillo is a Tucson, Ariz., journalist who writes for national and regional magazines and newspapers. He’s also the author of the mystery, Full Moon, books on historical military small arms, and the nonfiction work, Ice Hockey in the Desert.
Image of the USU Bifrost team from the Utah State University website.