Jetpacks Help Soldiers Run At The Speed Of Olympic Athletes

Kevin Loria

On May 6, 1954, Roger Bannister ran a mile in under four minutes for the first time in recorded history. Since then, other professional runners and world-class athletes have joined him in the sub-four-minute category — the record currently stands at 3:43, set by Hicham El Guerrouj in 1974.

But with the aid of a jetpack being developed at Arizona State University by mechanical engineer and robot designer Jason Kerestes, every single soldier in the future might be able to break the four minute barrier with ease.

"In a warfare type arena, this could potentially be the difference between life and death," says Kerestes, in a video demonstrating his work.

Kerestes is working on the project with wearable robotics expert Thomas Sugar, from ASU's Human Machine Integration Laboratory, and with support from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the research of the Department of Defense that's working on everything from brain hacking to exosuits.

And while they haven't achieved the four-minute mile goal yet, which gives the project its name, 4MM, Kerestes and Sugar believe it's definitely doable and are now just refining the design.

Sugar explains in the video that they started by working on robots and exosuit-like devices that could help amputees, but DARPA came and asked if they could build devices that would augment able-bodied people — and soldiers in particular. That's how they ended up focusing on jetpacks.

Kerestes joined the team as a engineer and roboticist with a welding background. With that, he could help design a prototype jetpack and then weld it together the next day.

At first, they weren't sure whether or not they could make humans faster. "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," says Kerestes.

We generally talk about jetpacks as something that might help someone fly, but they reduced the amount of force to create a device that can't make someone fly but that allows for instantaneous thrust and fast, agile, and controllable movement.

Trials showed they could make people run faster and use less energy, despite the addition of an 11.2 pound 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.

Or, as Digg, where we first saw the video, asks, "how much longer until we reach full Master Chief level performance?"

Watch the full video here:

Jetpack helps soldiers run faster from ASU Research on Vimeo.

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