Arizona State University is developing a jetpack, but rather than help the wearer fly, it is designed to help them run faster.
The project is being funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and is called 4MM, or 4 Minute Mile. It aims to help every wearer, eventually every soldier, be able to easily run a four-minute mile without exerting too much energy.
"In a warfare-type arena, this could potentially be the difference between life and death," says robot designer Jason Kerestes.
So far testers have been able to shave seconds off their times despite carrying the 11-pound jetpack. While they haven't reached the four-minute mile time just yet, the team is refining the design and is expected to reach its goal soon. The jetpack doesn't make wearers fly, but provides instant thurst and allows for fast, controllable movement.
In the video, wearable robotics expert Thomas Sugar, who is working on the project with the team, explains that they first started working on robotics that could help amputees. DARPA then came to the team and asked them if they could create robots that would be able to augment able-bodied people, particularly soldiers.
"We're incredibly engineered as is, and augmenting our abilities really becomes a difficult, challenging research project, that you don't know what the answer is going to be," continued Kerestes.
Recent trials have shown that the wearer can take up to three seconds off a 200-meter sprint. The entire mile took the subject five minutes and two seconds, 18 seconds less than without the jetpack.
"If you think of a Navy SEAL or an Army soldier that has to get in somewhere quick and do whatever they've gotta do, but maybe get out of there just as quickly, so these devices can really help soldiers to not only accomplish their goals and succeed in their missions, but potentially save human lives as well," says Kerestes.
When the Human Machine Integration Laboratory team at ASU was first asked to work on the project, it worked on a number of different systems, including one that would pull the subject along. Despite this, the team quickly decided that a jetpack being used for propulsion would be better.
This jetpack is not the only robot being engineered for soldiers. The U.S. Special Operations Command is calling on scientists to develop a suit that's similar to the ones found in the "Iron Man" movies. The suit would use nanotechnology and would give soldiers the ability to see in the dark, super-human strength, and a way to deflect bullets.
The Arizona State University suit will continue being developed and we should expect to see it, or similar tech, ready for soldier use in the future. In the meantime, you can take a look at the video below.