The idea of equipping humans with jetpacks has long been the dream of engineers, starry-eyed teenage dreamers, and writers looking to capitalize on our fascination with flying solo. Although there are plenty of working jetpack prototypes in existence, Arizona State University researchers are developing a slightly different jetpack focused on helping soldiers run faster on the ground.
At the request of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), mechanical engineer and robot designer Jason Kerestes is leading a team of ASU researchers to develop, test and refine a jetpack that DARPA hopes will someday enable soldiers to run faster on the battlefield.
Kerestes states, “If you think of a Navy SEAL or an Army soldier that has to get in somewhere quick and do whatever they’ve gotta do, but maybe get out of there just as quickly, so these devices can really help soldiers to not only accomplish their goals and succeed in their missions, but potentially save human lives as well.”
The project’s title, 4MM, is in reference to the ultimate goal shared among Kerestes’ team to develop a jetpack that can help humans run a mile in under four minutes. In its most recent test, the 4MM jetpack helped a volunteer run a mile in 5 minutes and 2 seconds. The current world record for running a mile is 3:43, set by Hicham El Guerrouj in 1999.
By reducing the force of the thrust, the 11.2 pound 4MM jetpack is effective enough to increase the agility and speed of the runner without compromising their ability to control their movements.
DARPAS’s investment in Kerestes’ jetpack is just one example of the US Military’s aim to significantly enhance soldier performance on the battlefield. Another intriguing project is DARPA’s Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit (Talos), designed to offer a variety of enhancements to soldiers ranging from ‘liquid’ armor, seeing in the dark, superhuman strength, and protection from bullets and shrapnel. Personally, I can’t wait until scientists and engineers develop a peace suit capable of withstanding all forms human aggression and stupidity.