If you spent any time poking around online recently, you probably have already seen the jaw-dropping video of a couple of guys in jetpacks flying with a jet 4,000 feet over Dubai (If not, check it out below). It's amazing stuff from the daredevil duo of Yves Rossy and Vince Reffet (and not at all a bad marketing move from Emirates), but if you're like me, it also raised one important question—where'd they get those gizmos, and can I get one too?
Turns out jetpacks—that long-promised but long-delayed emblem of futuristic technology—may not be the sole province of sci-fi and little kids' fantasies for long. As we reported here on Inc.com a few years back, Kiwi inventor and entrepreneur Glenn Martin has been tinkering with his design for a personal jetpack in his garage for more than 30 years, using his wife as a test pilot. How have things been coming along since that article?
Pretty well, it seems. Martin's company had a successful IPO in February of this year. "Martin Aircraft, was valued at more than $100 million when it listed on the Australian Securities Exchange, after securing a cornerstone investment worth up to $50 million from Chinese aerospace group Kuang-Chi Science," the Sydney Morning Herald reported at the time.
Then, in June, Martin Aircraft announced that it will begin selling its jetpacks next year at a cost of about $150,000. The latest version was on display at the Paris Airshow. It can fly for more than 30 minutes at up to 45 miles per hour and at altitudes of up to 3,000 feet or so. The company's CEO claims their first target market isn't thrill seekers but first responders for use in search and rescue applications, the Daily Mail reports. (There are plenty more technical details in the article if you're curious.)
So now we finally have a reply to that endlessly reoccurring question, “Where's my jetpack?” Answer: It's in development in New Zealand, and it'll run you a pretty penny (firefighters please move to the front of the line).
Of course, not everyone is sold on the charms of the personal jetpack. Astro Teller, chief of Google's innovation laboratory, Google X, shot down the idea of the company working on jetpacks at TechCrunch Disrupt. "We could have a concept that, wouldn't it be great to have a jetpack that isn't also a death trap?," he mused, before continuing, "We work on it, we work on it, and nope ... The real problem is that it's so power-inefficient it would get about a quarter of a mile per gallon. And it would be as loud as a motorcycle, and we thought, for now, that's a show-stopper."
While in the UK's Guardian newspaper Dean Burnett has also thrown cold water on the idea for similarly practical reasons. "You think it's easy to make a jetpack? After all, we've invented jets, we've invented backpacks, what's the problem? It should be straightforward ... Sadly, it's nowhere near that simple," he writes in the entertainingly crotchety article.
"The classic image of a jetpack is the one in the Rocketeer. It conjures the image of someone rising into the air with pillars of fire strapped to their back, as with genuine rockets. To answer what's wrong with that, imagine a powerful blowtorch focused on your legs for a prolonged period. People complain about getting a sore nether region from bicycle seats, so it's unlikely anyone would put up with liquefying their skin in the name of convenient transport," it concludes.
Still despite the low fuel economy and possible skin-liquefying side effects of jetpack travel, the Internet's frenzied reaction to the Dubai stunt indicates that mere practicalities aren't going to keep up from dreaming of personalized flight anytime soon. Maybe Martin is just crazy enough to benefit from our collective madness.