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Nate Ball’s appetite for invention began with hovercrafts and Tesla coils and led to building his revolutionary ascender that uses a reliable motor to raise rescuers by a rope. These are just a few of the inventions by this innovative mechanical engineer.

Episode filmed live at the 2011 World Science Festival in New York CIty. The full Cool Jobs program from that year can be viewed online.

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Nate Ball:

Thank you, guys. Thank you so much. I’m really excited to be here. I’m really thrilled. This is going to be fun. I’ve got to say, there comes a moment when you’re a hundred feet off the ground hanging from a helicopter in the middle of Thailand, seconds from testing a real-life superhero gadget that you built yourself with your friends when you think to yourself, “I have a cool job!”

Nate Ball:

My name is Nate Ball. I am a mechanical engineer and an inventor, and for my job, I get to design, build, and test futuristic rescue equipment for use in the real world, and that’s what I get to tell you about today.

Nate Ball:

First, I want to go back in time a little bit to tell you about what I was like as a kid, though. Just a bit of context. I loved to build things. You could not separate me from my Legos if you tried super hard. And I was also interested in a whole bunch of other things besides just making stuff. I was into music, sports, cars, nature. And what I found was that making projects wound up being a really fun way to combine the stuff I was really interested in with my love of making stuff.

Nate Ball:

And so this led to a whole bunch of projects like, you see, there’s a picture of me and my very first go-kart. My bicycle wasn’t fast enough to get me down the driveway hill, so I wanted to make something a bit more aerodynamic. I wound up building fun stuff like some potato guns. There’s a picture of me with my granddad in the backyard. That potato gun shot potatoes through three-quarter inch plywood. It was a little extreme. I got interested in sailing for a while, but I had no lakes nearby or a pond to make a sailboat in, so I had to figure out how to do it on land, so I made a land sailer. And I got interested in electricity, magnetism, electronics, and I built a Tesla coil, which is a kind of a neat contraption that does this. It makes lightning bolts. That project took me a little bit longer, had to learn a little more to pull that one off.

Nate Ball:

But what I didn’t know this whole time when I was making all these projects was that it was engineering, in fact, and I especially didn’t know that I could do it as an adult. I could have that much fun making cool stuff for a real job when I grew up. That’s what I discovered later when I went to college.

Nate Ball:

So back to today, I get to build rescue systems for people all over the world and especially for the U.S. military right now. Now the cool thing that I really like about this job is that it connects me with customers and people that need help, so I get to help them solve their problems. Now, this job takes me to some interesting places, like to the helicopter that you saw. In this case, I got to go on a boat ride in the ocean. Not just any boat, an aircraft carrier. And the really fun reason about why I was on the aircraft carrier was that I got to go there to demonstrate some of our rescue equipment to the 2000 sailors and Marines that were riding on the aircraft carrier. And so it’s super fun for me to get to connect with those people in real life and demonstrate our equipment.

Nate Ball:

Now, I don’t like to just talk about our cool rescue gear without showing it to you guys, so if we could bring down some of that rescue gear now, I want to tell you all about it, and more importantly, show it to you. Now, you guys are familiar with Batman, right? You guys know when Batman wants to get out of trouble, he shoots his grappling hook into the ceiling and what happens then? He goes up. Right? Now, my cool job is related to building a real-life version of Batman’s grappling hook setup, and that’s what I get to show you.

Nate Ball:

It’s pretty simple to use. This is something that I actually built with my friends. We put it together. And I’ve got to put on a safety harness here first. The part that you never see in Batman movies is when he puts his safety harness on. I actually put this thing together with my own two hands, with the help of a couple of friends, and we do get to supply these to people in the real world who also use it with normal climbing harnesses. This isn’t anything different from what you’d see in a rock climbing setup.

Nate Ball:

And I’ve got a little rope seatbelt that comes along with me, so if I go down too fast, it locks. I put on my rope seatbelt. Safety first. Clip in my helmet. And I clip this thing on, and I am ready to go up. Now, I’ve got to show you a quick picture here of somebody else using the system. This is a person from the Navy using our device. You can see he’s got it clipped to his harness just the same as I did, and where this came from was a military idea. They have a need that’s called extraction, which means getting them out of danger when they want to leave.

Nate Ball:

Now, if you can imagine that you were a soldier rappelling into a cave, say, in Afghanistan, and you were coming down your rope, rappelling down, you get deep into the cave, and you discover there’s people there that you don’t want to hang out with. You want out, right? You want out fast. Now, the best option that they usually had was to yell up to their friends, and they’d have to get pulled out by hand. So the soldiers said, “Wouldn’t it be cool if we had a device that could pull us out under power? All you’d have to do is pull the trigger, and then out we’d come.”

Nate Ball:

So we engineers said, “Let’s figure out a way to make that happen for real.” And this is what we came up with. Now, without further ado, let’s pretend that I’ve just rappelled into a cave or well. I’m hanging on my harness, and I want out. Now, kids, can you help me count this down? I never know quite when to pull the trigger. Let’s do it from five. Ready? Five, four, three, two, one. And out I go!

Nate Ball:

Thank you. Thank you. So you can tell if I was in danger, I wouldn’t be in danger very long if I were able to get out that quickly. And the really thrilling thing about this is that there’s so many applications for it, and that’s what we got to discover as engineers. Now, this system can actually lift a lot of weight, not just one person. You could lift two, or in some cases, even three people, which makes it really useful for a lot of different things. Not just to say washing windows when you want to go up or down, but you could also use it for rescue.

Nate Ball:

Now, here’s a picture of me lifting up my colleague, Brian, on the side of a school building there. We got to test it on campus a couple of times. It actually lifts two people. That’s almost a load of 300 or 350 pounds. And when you have that capability, all of a sudden things start to change for a rescue. So if you’re a firefighter that wants to rescue a person on top of a building, instead of having to go up the stairs, you can actually go up almost at one story per second with all your gear on your back, so things become a lot more capable to accomplish.

Nate Ball:

And that’s probably one of my favorite things about being an engineer is that I get to solve problems that help real people, and I get to have a lot of fun doing it. Every day when I go to work, I’ve got a new problem to solve. I get to put things together, test it until it works really well, and then give it back to the customers that asked for it. And that’s why I’m thrilled to go to my cool job every day. Thank you so much. You are a great audience.

Speaker 2:

Big round of applause and big cheer for Nate Ball!

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Cool Jobs: Inventor

Nate Ball’s appetite for invention began with hovercrafts and Tesla coils and led to building his revolutionary ascender that uses a reliable motor to raise rescuers by a rope. These are just a few of the inventions by this innovative mechanical engineer.

Episode filmed live at the 2011 World Science Festival in New York CIty. The full Cool Jobs program from that year can be viewed online.

Transcription

Nate Ball:

Thank you, guys. Thank you so much. I’m really excited to be here. I’m really thrilled. This is going to be fun. I’ve got to say, there comes a moment when you’re a hundred feet off the ground hanging from a helicopter in the middle of Thailand, seconds from testing a real-life superhero gadget that you built yourself with your friends when you think to yourself, “I have a cool job!”

Nate Ball:

My name is Nate Ball. I am a mechanical engineer and an inventor, and for my job, I get to design, build, and test futuristic rescue equipment for use in the real world, and that’s what I get to tell you about today.

Nate Ball:

First, I want to go back in time a little bit to tell you about what I was like as a kid, though. Just a bit of context. I loved to build things. You could not separate me from my Legos if you tried super hard. And I was also interested in a whole bunch of other things besides just making stuff. I was into music, sports, cars, nature. And what I found was that making projects wound up being a really fun way to combine the stuff I was really interested in with my love of making stuff.

Nate Ball:

And so this led to a whole bunch of projects like, you see, there’s a picture of me and my very first go-kart. My bicycle wasn’t fast enough to get me down the driveway hill, so I wanted to make something a bit more aerodynamic. I wound up building fun stuff like some potato guns. There’s a picture of me with my granddad in the backyard. That potato gun shot potatoes through three-quarter inch plywood. It was a little extreme. I got interested in sailing for a while, but I had no lakes nearby or a pond to make a sailboat in, so I had to figure out how to do it on land, so I made a land sailer. And I got interested in electricity, magnetism, electronics, and I built a Tesla coil, which is a kind of a neat contraption that does this. It makes lightning bolts. That project took me a little bit longer, had to learn a little more to pull that one off.

Nate Ball:

But what I didn’t know this whole time when I was making all these projects was that it was engineering, in fact, and I especially didn’t know that I could do it as an adult. I could have that much fun making cool stuff for a real job when I grew up. That’s what I discovered later when I went to college.

Nate Ball:

So back to today, I get to build rescue systems for people all over the world and especially for the U.S. military right now. Now the cool thing that I really like about this job is that it connects me with customers and people that need help, so I get to help them solve their problems. Now, this job takes me to some interesting places, like to the helicopter that you saw. In this case, I got to go on a boat ride in the ocean. Not just any boat, an aircraft carrier. And the really fun reason about why I was on the aircraft carrier was that I got to go there to demonstrate some of our rescue equipment to the 2000 sailors and Marines that were riding on the aircraft carrier. And so it’s super fun for me to get to connect with those people in real life and demonstrate our equipment.

Nate Ball:

Now, I don’t like to just talk about our cool rescue gear without showing it to you guys, so if we could bring down some of that rescue gear now, I want to tell you all about it, and more importantly, show it to you. Now, you guys are familiar with Batman, right? You guys know when Batman wants to get out of trouble, he shoots his grappling hook into the ceiling and what happens then? He goes up. Right? Now, my cool job is related to building a real-life version of Batman’s grappling hook setup, and that’s what I get to show you.

Nate Ball:

It’s pretty simple to use. This is something that I actually built with my friends. We put it together. And I’ve got to put on a safety harness here first. The part that you never see in Batman movies is when he puts his safety harness on. I actually put this thing together with my own two hands, with the help of a couple of friends, and we do get to supply these to people in the real world who also use it with normal climbing harnesses. This isn’t anything different from what you’d see in a rock climbing setup.

Nate Ball:

And I’ve got a little rope seatbelt that comes along with me, so if I go down too fast, it locks. I put on my rope seatbelt. Safety first. Clip in my helmet. And I clip this thing on, and I am ready to go up. Now, I’ve got to show you a quick picture here of somebody else using the system. This is a person from the Navy using our device. You can see he’s got it clipped to his harness just the same as I did, and where this came from was a military idea. They have a need that’s called extraction, which means getting them out of danger when they want to leave.

Nate Ball:

Now, if you can imagine that you were a soldier rappelling into a cave, say, in Afghanistan, and you were coming down your rope, rappelling down, you get deep into the cave, and you discover there’s people there that you don’t want to hang out with. You want out, right? You want out fast. Now, the best option that they usually had was to yell up to their friends, and they’d have to get pulled out by hand. So the soldiers said, “Wouldn’t it be cool if we had a device that could pull us out under power? All you’d have to do is pull the trigger, and then out we’d come.”

Nate Ball:

So we engineers said, “Let’s figure out a way to make that happen for real.” And this is what we came up with. Now, without further ado, let’s pretend that I’ve just rappelled into a cave or well. I’m hanging on my harness, and I want out. Now, kids, can you help me count this down? I never know quite when to pull the trigger. Let’s do it from five. Ready? Five, four, three, two, one. And out I go!

Nate Ball:

Thank you. Thank you. So you can tell if I was in danger, I wouldn’t be in danger very long if I were able to get out that quickly. And the really thrilling thing about this is that there’s so many applications for it, and that’s what we got to discover as engineers. Now, this system can actually lift a lot of weight, not just one person. You could lift two, or in some cases, even three people, which makes it really useful for a lot of different things. Not just to say washing windows when you want to go up or down, but you could also use it for rescue.

Nate Ball:

Now, here’s a picture of me lifting up my colleague, Brian, on the side of a school building there. We got to test it on campus a couple of times. It actually lifts two people. That’s almost a load of 300 or 350 pounds. And when you have that capability, all of a sudden things start to change for a rescue. So if you’re a firefighter that wants to rescue a person on top of a building, instead of having to go up the stairs, you can actually go up almost at one story per second with all your gear on your back, so things become a lot more capable to accomplish.

Nate Ball:

And that’s probably one of my favorite things about being an engineer is that I get to solve problems that help real people, and I get to have a lot of fun doing it. Every day when I go to work, I’ve got a new problem to solve. I get to put things together, test it until it works really well, and then give it back to the customers that asked for it. And that’s why I’m thrilled to go to my cool job every day. Thank you so much. You are a great audience.

Speaker 2:

Big round of applause and big cheer for Nate Ball!