V.axess - The Petzl institute
V.axess, the Petzl Institute was created to be a place for discussion and experimentation.
Its goal is to unite experiences and knowledge under one roof in order to invent and develop the techniques of tomorrow. To reach these objectives, it is necessary to increase our understanding of the different components of verticality.
This modeling phase is essential. It must integrate human dimensions, both physiological and psychological, as well as technical dimensions, which may involve equipment or progression.
V.axess is at once a physical location (the striking V.axess building was constructed in 2008) and a training, information and research department of Petzl, designed to bring together the ideas and aspirations of mountain, rescue, and industry professionals to develop the vertical-access techniques of tomorrow.
The building contains over 5,000 square feet of floor space and a complex array of internal and external stairs, walkways, adjustable climbing surfaces, and load-bearing beams and platforms. The building’s internal and external surfaces are equipped to simulate many situations found in the vertical world.
Also included at V.axess are: a 100-foot tower, confined spaces, outdoor climbing surfaces that can be used to create ice or seeping-water conditions and 50kW fans capable of generating 60mph winds.
In February 2010, Petzl appointed Chris Blakeley as head of V.axess, the Petzl Institute.
Chris Blakeley, the new V.axess manager.
Blakeley, 37, hails from northern England. Since childhood, he was active in caving and climbing, and in college he studied engineering, specializing in three-dimensional design and prototyping. After college, he worked as a rope-access technician, putting his caving and rigging skills to practical use.
And though he officially came on board as V.axess manager in 2010, he was closely involved with Petzl for years prior, while working for Petzl’s UK distributor, Lyon Equipment. At Lyon, Blakeley was training manager, creating and delivering training courses with a strong team of trainers, and later moved to a role as the company’s technical manager. After a decade with Lyon, Blakeley accepted the Petzl position and relocated to France, working out of Petzl’s headquarters in Crolles, surrounded by breathtaking mountains and deep cave complexes.
V.axess will have many functions at Petzl, from creating training modules; to development, testing, and refinement of solutions; to helping analyze human physical and psychological responses to extreme situations. V.axess is a unique and valuable tool that will help Petzl maintain its leadership in creating products, information, and training — the solution — for those who seek to access the inaccessible. Blakeley, with deep experience and an innovative mind, will help Petzl get the most out of V.axess.
The V.axess building at Petzl headquarters in Crolles, France. Photo: Justin Roth
Below, Blakeley answers a few questions about V.axess and its current and potential uses.
Petzl: How is V.axess a part of Petzl’s Research and Development department?
Chris Blakeley: When you have an idea for a new product, that idea has come from an input — it may be an individual who brings it, but quite often it comes from a desire to achieve something. That need may have been identified during a training course, or it may have come from a hole in the market, identified as a user tried to complete a task, within V.axess or externally.
We have our studio-based R&D design offices at Petzl, for initial project development. Here, input from throughout the company is incorporated and we develop prototypes that will be tested, in the early stages, in the Petzl test tower, which is in another area of the building. Before V.axess existed, the next step from the test tower was to take the prototypes outside and field test them. But in such tests, there might be all sorts of variables out of one’s control, which can limit the effectiveness of the trials.
V.axess provides an intermediary step: from the test tower, you can bring a solution to V.axess and carry out controlled field tests — on-site and with a lot of realism. We can gain instant feedback using the inside and outside of the building, recreating slopes, wind, cross-wind, rope elongation, anchor failure … and we can do it all by changing just one variable at a time and while maintaining necessary safety margins.
The whole building is wirelessly networked, so we can record data from anywhere. We have points for accessing the server network throughout the building. We can plug in load cells wherever we want. We can monitor heart rates anywhere in the building. With so many possibilities, V.axess helps to complete the loop back into R&D. Field testing in a natural environment comes next, and can be much more beneficial as a result of these earlier more controlled sessions.
What other roles might V.axess play for Petzl?
The R&D loop is one function of V.axess, but we’re looking towards research as its own entity: how you can improve the abilities, efficiency and security of those working at height? And we’re looking at performance-related topics, like how does one climber perform so differently from another? With similar weight, strength and experiences, how does one make a move work and the other can’t? ...
The potential project work for V.axess is limited only by your imagination.
Inside V.axess. Photo: Justin Roth
Can you sum up your mission and the V.axess mission?
Today, the drive is to increase the ability and understanding level of the worldwide Petzl distribution network in order to directly support the users of Petzl solutions. To achieve this requires a multiplication of training provision, starting with the center as V.axess and radiating out through our distribution network around the world and ultimately to end users via the training centers in their local areas.
My mission is to guide V.axess as we progress towards these aims:
- First, we want people to understand Petzl solutions and how they can use those solutions to achieve their goals and attain their desires, in the sport or professional environment.
- Second, we want people to use Petzl solutions responsibly and to their absolute potential. You just can’t do that without some kind of information or training. V.axess is the hub of that.
- A third aim is that users of our solutions will have access to more formal certification where necessary. We provide the route to this certification through our distribution network’s knowledge and abilities, developed and certified by V.axess, the Petzl Institute.
Photos © Arnaud Childéric - Studio Kalice.