"Bambi" Backpack Designed to Build Bridges for Military


By Mary Rose Thomas-Glaser

Today's U.S. Special Tactics Battlefield Airmen forces are highly trained, in peak physical condition and equipped with 150 pounds of gear, weapons and body armor to conduct rescue and assault missions around the world. Often these missions involve challenging physical obstacles such as scaling high walls, crossing waterways and rooftops, or quickly rescuing and transporting injured victims — tasks that require strong, versatile, portable tools. Traditionally standard 40-pound aluminum ladders have been used, but they're a bulky and heavy burden for personnel already loaded with gear.

To solve this equipment challenge, the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory issued the University Design Challenge to engineering students at 16 universities and three military academies. Their mission was to develop a portable, lightweight, multipurpose tool that could traverse a variety of obstacles over a 20-foot gap and was simple to deploy, reusable and able to hold 350 pounds. Each team received $20,000 and had nine months to complete their design.

Teams competed in a field test with their equipment prototype on an obstacle course designed with a variety of gaps at Elgin Air Force Base in Florida. The winner of the competition was BAMBI — the Break-Apart Mobile Bridging and Infiltration device — designed by seven Utah State University students and two faculty. According to Byard Wood, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at USU, "We were able to take it out of the backpack, assemble it, cross multiple gaps and then reassemble it in six minutes."

What Set Bambi Apart

BAMBI's simple yet ingenious modular design consists of six interlocking sections that can be transported in a 4 pound backpack and quickly assembled into a 22-foot long bridge structure. Its carbon fiber and foam core construction is strong enough to hold 350 pounds yet at 27 pounds is extremely lightweight. And its rough, sandy finish provides traction for better footing in slippery conditions and when climbing.

As winners of the challenge, USU is expected to receive a $100,000 grant to refine development of BAMBI for military use.

Classroom Discussion

  • What makes carbon steel so much stronger than other materials? What other products are made of carbon steel?
  • What training is required for the elite military Special Forces? What missions do they conduct?