The Jetpack has been a futuristic symbol of techno-utopia, and freedom, for a century. The first jetpack was conceived in 1919. It wasn’t until 1958, though, that the first working model was created. But they still seem further from general availability than the comparatively more pedestrian flying car, which I wrote about last year.
There are some real jetpacks around, just not evenly distributed. Astronauts use them from time to time. And there are a few doing the public exhibition circuit, but nothing like the barnstorming days at the beginning of powered flight.
The Martin Jetpack still hasn’t become a commercial success after decades of development. There is the flyboard air, which is a platform rather than a jetpack. The winged jetpack of Yves Rossy. Jetpack Aviation is more like the imagined future.
And then there is Gravity’s Iron-man-like Daedalus Flight Pack, under development.
Boeing has recently tried to generate more lift in jetpack futures through its GoFly challenge. As Bloomberg notes, a range of technology trends are converging to make jetpacks more feasible – better sensors, better batteries, and 3D printing.
But, as Bloomberg also point out, social and regulatory considerations such as quietness and safety are also leading to flying bikes rather than the jetpacks of science fiction. Less Buck Rogers, more Sprocket Man (jetpacks are still largely a guy thing):
Or, more charitably, an Imperial speeder from Star Wars.
That’s likely to be a disappointment to some jetpack fans. But also likely to still concern those already fearing future skies crowded with drones big and small, flying cars, and perhaps inevitably flying scooters.
An article in The Atlantic commented a few years ago:
“Envisioning our future selves in jetpacks and flying cars is a way of saying our trajectory is upward, that we can expect tech to evolve in ways that improve autonomy and convenience — technology that makes our lives better, and looks pretty cool, too.”
Jetpacks are classic “pull of the future” artifacts – objects or symbols that encapsulate a vision of where we’d like to get to. The “shining city upon a hill” in political terms. We rarely get there, but they can be powerful motivators
With robots and algorithms, surveillance and climate change concerns, authoritarianism and inequities many people are now in a less optimistic frame of mind about the future. But there is still much to be positive and hopeful about. How should we envision our desired future society today? Not so much about a piece of technology, more about how we will live well and meaningfully.