Think of a jetpack and you may imagine flying over a futuristic city, inspired by scenes in sci-fi films. But the technology could also be used to enable soldiers to run faster in warzones in a matter of years.
US engineers have created a working prototype that attaches to people’s backs and helps them to run a mile in a much shorter space of time – despite carrying the large metal pack.
The project is the military’s latest effort to create exoskeletons for US soldiers to give them super-human strength, speed and other advantages on the battlefield.
The goal behind Arizona State University’s 4MM (four minute mile) project is to enhance the speed and agility of the wearer of a jetpack so they can run a four minute mile with ease.
Jason Kerestes, an engineering student at the university explained: ‘We reduced the amount of force so we’re not able to fly with our jet pack but we have instantaneous thrust and can trigger it to allow for faster movements.’
‘Our goal is to get any soldier – or subject wearing the jetpack – to be able to run a four minute mile, who was not capable of doing so before,’ he said.
When Mr Kerestes and his mentor Professor Thomas Sugar were first asked by Darpa to design a way to allow soldier to run faster without using any more effort, they experimented with a system allowing a person to be pulled along, but quickly settled on a jetpack for propulsion.
Currently, a volunteer wearing the pack can shave seconds off their best time – despite carrying the 11lbs (5kg) metal pack. In one test, a runner was able to reduce their personal best for a mile from five minutes 20 seconds, to five minutes and two seconds.
In 200 metre trials, runners decreased their times and used less energy, the experts said.
Mr Kerestes said: ‘In the warfare arena this [the ability to run faster] could be the difference between life and death.’
‘Devices can help soldiers succeed in their missions and potentially save human lives.’