Designing a Lifeline

Michael RagsdaleMichael Ragsdale asked himself, “What would Batman use?”

The 40-something University of Cincinnati College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning (DAAP) graduate has spent his life seeking challenges. When he was in the U.S. Navy he disarmed explosives, was a diving supervisor and jumped out of planes. He rock climbs and has finished the Ironman triathlon.

Becoming an industrial design student was a new type of challenge.

“Some of the stuff I did in school was scarier than jumping out of a plane,” he says. “It was different, it was doing things I’m not used to doing. It was learning to be something that is counterintuitive for me—thinking like an artist.”

Before Michael found himself wondering what Batman would do—he decided he wanted to be an entrepreneur and returned to his hometown to speak with UC admissions counselors.

“When I walked into DAAP, I felt like I hit a gold mine,” he says. “Immediately, I saw the future, I saw opportunity.”

Michael says the scholarship he received allowed him to pursue his dream.

“I went from making quite a good living in the military to making no money while going to school,” he says of the Phyllis Finch Scholarship. “It was the last year of school and I had no idea how I was going to pay for college. If it were not for this scholarship I would not have been able to finish.”

After moving back to Cincinnati, Michael reconnected with friend and City of Covington firefighter Matthew Archer. Matthew told him the story of New York City’s Black Sunday. In 2005, six firefighters were forced to jump from a fourth floor during a fire; two died and four sustained critical injuries.

Michael decided this was his next challenge and began channeling his inner Batman. He was determined to create a device that was light enough for a firefighter to carry but strong enough to use to rappel to the ground. He would work on it at DAAP and test it at his gym, much to the amusement of his firefighter friends.

Development Timeline

“I have video after video of it failing,” he says. “There are a lot of firefighters at my gym and they would just shake their heads.”

Those who witnessed Michael’s three years of work, weren’t surprised by his tenacity. 

“From my early interactions with Michael it was clear he was not our typical DAAP student. He came to us with a lengthy military background and had little to no training in ‘DAAP style’ creative studies,” says Steven Doehler, associate professor, industrial design. “What Michael had was a burning desire to learn our methodologies and immerse himself into our culture. He is a continual learner who is not afraid to ask for help.”

Michael RagsdaleAlong the way, Michael found two partners, Patrick Henke DAAP ’17 and Erik Zamudio DAAP ’15 and sought help from the UC Department of Physics. He flew to Florida to visit an industry expert from NASA and won funding from Bearcat LaunchPad, a student-led business accelerator in the Carl H. Lindner College of Business.

At press time, Bailout Systems, a descent device, was being manufactured and marketed.

Bailout Testing“The reason we were able to do that is because of all these people along the way who aided us at every turn,” Michael says. “This school is so amazing. You have everything in that school that you need to succeed to do something if you just put in the work.”

His friend Matthew tried Bailout Systems on a wall in Cincinnati’s Eden Park.

“When he landed, he had the biggest smile on his face,” Michael says. 

To support more innovative work by students and faculty, visit