How do you build a jetpack anyone can fly? Make it smarter

I used to think that flying a jetpack was something I’d never be able to do.

Jetpacks are too exotic, too expensive, and require a set of piloting skills that I simply don’t have. It’s not in the cards for me, I always thought. But after watching JetPack Aviation founder David Mayman fly his JB-10 over California’s Port of Long Beach last week, I’m convinced that I could do it.

He just made it look so easy. After a quick preflight check, Mayman boosted into the air and immediately started flying in circles as though he’d been born with turbines on his back. But when he touched back down in front of an awestruck crowd of journalists, he was quick to admit that his aerial acrobatics weren’t necessarily a feat of pure skill. Apparently, technology does most of the work.

“It’s actually quite simple,” says Mayman. “You don’t really think — you just fly.”

It wasn’t always that easy, though. The JB-10 is the culmination of more than four decades of iterative design and engineering; it’s a lot more than just a booster in a backpack. In addition to a pair of custom-modified jet turbines, the machine boasts a veritable boatload of sensors. During flight, gyroscopes and accelerometers check up on the craft’s orientation hundreds of times per second, constantly sending feedback to the system’s control electronics and vectoring the thrusters in order to keep the pilot stable.

“It’s like a Segway,” Mayman explains. “If you want to go forward, you just lean forward. If you want to stop, you just lean back. It’s incredibly simple. If you wanted to fly a helicopter, you’d need 150 hours of training — but with this, you can learn everything you need to know in about 3 hours.”

That’s really the most amazing thing about the JB-10. It’s certainly not the first jetpack that’s ever been built, but it’s likely the first that an average person could fly. We’ve finally reached a point where technology has caught up with our imaginations.

Mayman attributes a lot of this progress to the rise of mobile technology. “Ten years ago, the sensors weren’t available, and smartphones have sort of led the way there. Every iPhone has a little accelerometer in it, like a laser gyro, that these days costs just cents. Ten years ago, something like that would’ve cost thousands.”

Other technological evolutions have helped too. Engineers and thrill-seeking tinkerers have been strapping turbines on their backs since the 1970s, but it wasn’t until recently that engines became small and efficient enough to enable reasonably long flight times. Years ago, even the most advanced jetpack could only fly for about a minute, but the JB-10 can stay airborne for 10 minutes at a time, accelerate to more than 70 miles per hour, and reach altitudes of over 10,000 feet. All that and it still fits in the trunk of a car.

That said, there is one big barrier standing between us and the utopian future where everyone makes their morning commute via jetpack — and that barrier, of course, is price.

Unsurprisingly, all this gyroscopically-balanced, trunk-sized vectored thruster technology isn’t cheap. Jetpack Aviation plans to start selling the JB-10 in 2019, but to get your hands on one, you’ll need to shell out about $250,000.

Don’t get hung up on the price. Despite the fact that a JB-10 costs as much as a Lamborghini, it’s still pretty incredible to know that we’ll soon be living in a world where jetpacks are just as accessible as Italian sports cars.

If that doesn’t make you feel like you’re living in the future, I don’t know what will.

Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Hi-viz bike reflectors and a tiny flashlight

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Product Review

Yuneec’s Mantis Q will make you wish you bought a DJI drone

Yuneec’s high-end drones are arguably the ones to beat in terms of flight control, design, and their photographic capabilities. But the company has struggled to make a low-end drone that’s worth buying, and the Mantis Q is proof of that…
Gaming

Take to the virtual skies with these free flight simulators

You don't have to spend the entirety of your paycheck to become a virtual ace, at least when it comes to flight simulation. Our list of the best free flight simulators will let you unleash your inner Maverick.
Product Review

The Division 2 feels more like a revision, but fans will love it

If the private beta is any indication, The Division 2 is shaping up to be a better version of the original, rather than a brand-new experience. That said, the game is looking quite great.
Emerging Tech

Photosynthesizing artificial leaf may be the air-cleaning tool we’ve dreamed of

Engineers from the University of Illinois at Chicago have invented an artificial leaf which could both clean up our air and provide a cost-effective type of fuel. Here's how it works.
Mobile

These 13 gadgets walk a fine line between ingenious and insane

The annual avalanche of devices and gadgets is astounding, but how many will succeed? A few are destined to spark new trends, while the majority fade deservedly into obscurity. We look at some gadgets on the border of brilliant and bonkers.
Emerging Tech

Global Good wants to rid the world of deadly diseases with lasers and A.I.

Global Good, a collaboration between Intellectual Ventures and Bill Gates, aims to eradicate diseases that kill children in developing nations. It tackles difficult problems with high-tech prototypes.
Emerging Tech

A.I.-powered website creates freakishly lifelike faces of people who don’t exist

No, this isn't a picture of a missing person. It's a face generated by a new artificial intelligence on the website ThisPersonDoesNotExist.com. Here's how the impressive A.I. works.
Emerging Tech

China’s mind-controlled cyborg rats are proof we live in a cyberpunk dystopia

Neuroscience researchers from Zhejiang University, China, have created a method that allows humans to control the movements of rats using a technology called a brain-brain interface.
Emerging Tech

NASA’s MAVEN orbiter has a new job as a communication relay for Mars 2020

NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) orbiter has been collecting atmospheric readings but now is taking on a new job as a data relay satellite for the Mars 2020 mission that launches next year.
Emerging Tech

Underground volcanoes could explain possible liquid water on Mars

Last year scientists discovered there could be liquid water on Mars. Now a research team argues that for there to be liquid water, there must be an underground source of heat -- and they believe underground volcanoes could be responsible.
Emerging Tech

The 10 most expensive drones that you (a civilian) can buy

OK, these drones may be a bit beyond your budget: Check out the most expensive drones in the world, from industrial giants to highest-end filming tools.
Emerging Tech

Of all the vape pens in the world, these 5 are the best

Vaping concentrates has become significantly more popular, especially among those that use cannabis for medicinal purposes. But don’t use just any vape pen: we found these five devices to be our favorites in 2018.
Computing

The HoloLens 2 will be announced at MWC. Here's what we know about it so far

The HoloLens 2 is ripe for an announcement. Here's what Microsoft has revealed so far, what's likely in store for the next generation HoloLens, and everything that we know about this mixed reality headset.