The video: A team of engineering undergrads calling themselves the "Ascending Aggies" has designed a suction pack that transforms ordinary soldiers into Spider-Man-like wall crawlers. After demonstrating the Personal Vacuum Assisted Technology, or PVAC, on a 90-foot wall (watch the demo below), the Utah State University students beat out 33 other design teams to take top prize in a U.S. Air Force competition. An aspiring climber straps a motorized vacuum to his back, then scales the wall using two suction plates attached to his hands. Once he reaches the top, he uses a rope to lower the PVAC back down to waiting comrades. The hefty unit weighs 48 pounds, but generates enough sucking power to hoist between 500 to 700 pounds, and works on a multitude of surfaces, from brick to glass to stucco. The team was awarded $50,000 in initial grant money to continue refining the invention for potential military use.
The reaction: The university is actively playing up the Spider-Man parallel, says Spencer Ackerman at Wired. "And why not? The military isn't above its love for superheroes." It's named strength-altering exoskeletons after the Hulk, and developed a special-ops field suit that takes its cues from Batman. Our armed forces are "real-life superheroes," anyway, and plenty of soldiers would "welcome the chance to play Spider-Man." Still, says Kevin Lee at PC World, this prototype has a glaring flaw: It's "about as loud as your household vacuum cleaner," which would obviously compromise any stealth mission. Take a look: