Indoor lead climbing currently cannot be done without a partner; but with the use of Lead Solo, it now can.
23 August 2023
BSc Product Design student Tom McNeill has designed and tested the world's first purely mechanical lead climbing auto-belay. Lead Solo offers rope freely to the climber as they ascend the route, and catches them if they fall, safely lowering them to the ground. This product has come along at just the right time, with lead climbing becoming a rapidly popular sport through the Olympics.
Lead Solo allows for easy disassembly so that climbing gyms can get to the internal components and perform maintenance quickly; as climbing gyms are the primary purchaser. The whole product is a simple mechanical design, and all parts that would wear over time can be easily replaced and recycled, as all are made from raw materials. This also helps keep the price low, at £700 for the full product, far less than similar products. The product works by detecting when sudden force is pulled against the rope, generated from a fall, and uses this force to lock up the internal break, and slowing down the climber to safely lower them to the ground.
Tom also states that the large selling point of Lead Solo is the ability for users to inspect the internal components and “break the fear of the unknown”. This was an issue identified through interviews, where users stated “it’s an unknown, it’s a machine that you hope is operating correctly”. The simplicity of the product and window allows users to see inside the product and notice that there is nothing to be afraid of.