May 15, 2012 at 2:12 PM ET
When soldiers next need to scale a concrete wall, they should leave the gecko tape at home and opt for vacuum suction pads instead.
Such a set-up, illustrated in the video below, took first place among university entries in a recent design competition sponsored by the Air Force Research Laboratory.
The goal was to design a system that would allow a four-member team of Special Operations forces to scale buildings or mountains in a variety of conditions.
“At the heart of the two PVAC units were two back-mounted carpet extractor motors. These each created suction with a three-stage impeller, were powered by seven lithium-polymer batteries, and created a seal against the wall using connected handheld pads lined with closed-cell foam. A pressure release lever on each pad allowed it to be secured against the wall when being used by the climber to pull themselves up, then released so it could be lifted higher.”
The competition was held at an abandoned cement silo near Wright State University in Ohio. Two team members scaled the wall with the PVAC units. Once on top, they dropped a rope for the other team members to ascend with a powered winch.
The competition also pitted the three United States service academies against each other – Air Force, Naval, and West Point.
The Air Force Academy took top prize with a gun-launched device that would reach the top of the climbing surface and explosively set a concrete anchor for the lead rope.
The team also developed a carbon fiber ladder, which could be used in leap-frog fashion with periodically placed wall anchors to allow a climber to scale the wall.
John Roach is a contributing writer for msnbc.com. To learn more about him, check out his website and follow him on Twitter. For more of our Future of Technology series, watch the featured video below.