If the predictions for futuristic transportation come true, our skies are going to be full of aerial passenger drones - and jetpacks. You thought navigating metro areas during rush hour is a challenge? Well, get ready. Flight entrepreneurs are determined to send the daily commute into the clouds.
Martin Aircraft Company, based in New Zealand, has been working on developing jetpacks for years. Their current gas-powered prototype can fly up to 2,500 feet, goes about 25 mph and can stay aloft for about 30 minutes, according to the specs. A price for one of their jetpacks hasn't been announced, but is expected to start well above $100,000 once it's ready to hit the market.
Peter Coker, who was previously the company's CEO and is now an executive for their Chinese shareholder KuangChi Science Limited, recently told the BBC that he thinks jetpacks will be part of future cities. "I see it as being the Uber of the sky," he said.
Speaking of which, Uber already wants to be the "Uber of the sky." Last fall the ride-sharing company released a white paper outlining a vision for one day deploying fleets of electric aerial vehicles to pick up passengers. Hailing a jetpack would probably be a very different experience from hailing a plane-like aerial vehicle, though.
That doesn't mean it will be impossible. Today KuangChi launched an investment fund worth $250 million, which it will use to support research in - among other areas - smart cities. Martin Aircraft's leadership thinks that their jetpacks, which the company calls "optionally piloted hovering air vehicles," will be part of that urban landscape because they're designed to be safe, practical, and flown unmanned.
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"We're trying to make the world's easiest-to-fly aircraft," Martin Aircraft's then-CEO Richard Lauder told Discovery News in 2013, when the company was talking about putting its jetpack into production. At that point, the goal was to create "a Segway for the sky." Although the company has made progress since then, including obtaining certifications for manned test flights, the jetpacks aren't ready for everyday takeoff.
I expect that, given the high price of a jetpack once they're available, the intense technological challenges of producing efficient unmanned aerial vehicles, plus all those regulations left to clear, commuters will be sticking to wheels for a while yet. Whether or not a robotic car picks them up remains to be seen.
Now, the idea of sending aerial vehicles on rescue missions seems much more promising to me. From a distance, the jetpack does look a little bit like Iron Man.