Human flight is an iconic preoccupation throughout human history. Journey into inner space is lesser-known but still well-established in speculative science and literature. And human augmentation is part of both outward and inward super-travel aspirations. Combine that with the excitement of DNA research and Canadian ice-river rats and you have a cross section of bizarre and somewhat amusing technological advancements from the last couple of years — achievements that seek to put people where they haven’t gone before, even if they never leave Earth, or even their own neighborhoods.
Canadian Weedwacker Ice Jet!
Some humans like to take things apart and use the resulting components to make other things.
Before we get into actual jetpacks, here’s a fun metaphorical one. A Canadian man made himself a “jetpack” out of some weedwacker fans to assist him in skating up an icy river. What a display of ingenuity!
Hovering Across the English Channel!
Jetpacks are gadgets long-promised and, for the past several years, rather amazingly realized. They are examples of the congruence of imagination and feasible technology. Characters from Buck Rogers to Gilligan used them time and again, from the dieselpunk to atompunk periods. “We were promised jetpacks” is a joke that became a band name. Thus, humanity has been hard at work to deliver on that promise for a while now.
2019’s jetpack across the English Channel story is still timely. An eccentric French inventor named Franky Zapata had been trying to cross the channel on a hoverboard for some time, coming up short at a refueling station platform in the middle of the journey once and splashing into the water for his troubles. But then he managed to get from Sangatte to Kent over a 22-mile stretch of the channel.
The catch, of course, is that the hoverboard, a Flyboard Air model, only had enough fuel for about 10 minutes’ worth of flying before needing to be refueled. His first attempt was a close miss, so Zapata’s team used a bigger boat for the station the second time after negotiating its permittance with French authorities.
Inner space is just as exciting as outer space!
If channel flights or motorized ice skating doesn’t strike your fancy, maybe you’d like to inscribe something on strands of DNA. That’s what CRISPR (usually pronounced “crisper”) can do for you. The acronym is for a DNA sequence: clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats. It’s also shorthand for the methods or “systems that can be programmed to target specific stretches of genetic code and to edit DNA at precise locations,” such as what happened here. Somewhat whimsically (if you’re a nerd), bioengineers programmed a DNA sequence to lay out binary 1s and 0s to spell “hello world,” a longtime robot/android prototype opening line in robotics lore.
These three incidental journeys are reminiscent of details golden age science fiction authors used as background details. The protagonists of Red Planet skate across frozen Martian canals. Jet packs and hoverboards are everywhere. And, literally or metaphorically, we shrink into inner space. Here we are in the future.