Back when we were more optimistic about the effects of technology on society and everyday life, the joke was that if we don’t get jet packs, all that technology isn’t worth the effort. The joke facilitated the naming of a great Scottish indie group formed in 2003, and lots of social media about personal air vehicles.
And although we haven’t seen the pace of development and mainstreaming anticipated in older speculative representations of 21st century life, PAVs are the subject of considerable R&D both in the private sector and the public (NASA has a Personal Air Vehicle Sector Project under the umbrella of its Aeronautics Vehicle Systems Program).
Here are some updates on the big three of small flying machines, hoverboards, flying “cars,” and yes, jetpacks.
At the beginning of August, “[a]fter a failed attempt at the end of July, French inventor Franky Zapata successfully crossed the English Channel . . . on his Flyboard Air, a jet-powered hoverboard.” Apparently the challenge the first time was that the waves were too high en route to a refueling platform, highlighting the need for small vehicles to have adequate power supplies. Technically, a hoverboard may not even qualify as a “flying” vehicle because you aren’t really up so high, but both the practical application and the presumed fun of traveling on one warrants inclusion on this list. Here’s the footage, which might make you cry, since Zapata’s supporters all do when he successfully crosses the Channel.
The Flying “Cars”
These are serious business. No Chitty Chitty Bang Bang here. Even Boeing is in the game, and they’ve partnered with a boutique tech developer called, appropriately enough, Kitty Hawk, to develop the Cora, a two-seat semi-autonomous flying taxi (we are salivating).
Kitty Hawk also has the Flyer, and the video on this page shows that spider-like vehicle quietly flying over various bodies of water and a shadowy desert and hill landscape while the designer talks about his dream of building flying machines. Kind of inspiring.
The (we were indeed promised) jet packs
As you can imagine, there’s a never-ending stream of prototypes for the jet pack. But the most interesting recent project is British entrepreneur Richard Browning’s “real-life Iron Man suit,” essentially a set of jet engines attached to the pilot’s arms and legs. Browning’s start-up, Gravity, has “filed patents for the human propulsion technology that could re-imagine manned flight,” including the jet-engine suit, called Daedalus. A beefier test flight is expected “in the next 12 months.”
Although there are a few different videos of Browning and Daedalus in flight, this simple debut footage might be the most elegant—the guy just smoothly and symmetrically floats around and lands where he took off—all with confidence that gets you thinking about the many applications of such flight.