The human body, for all its wonders, is not great at jumping.
Given reasonable footholds, a human can climb over an obstacle, and given enough time, humans can create powerful machines that tear down walls, or flying machines that can go over walls, but scaling vertical distance with speed remains a challenge.
All of this, at least in part, fuels the fascination with jetpacks, person-sized transportation that gets someone from here to there without a the need of runways or any other massive apparatus.
Personal flight, in a small package, is something the Pentagon’s pursued for decades, with varying degrees of enthusiasm. New jetpacks, with thrusters worn on the back as well as in the pilot’s hands, are closer to what military planners in the 2030s and 2050s might want, though there are still hurdles like sound and short flight time to overcome first.
But today, let’s talk about a different jetpack concept. Meet Lunavity, which is essentially a 16-engined multirotor drone with a harness for a person strapped underneath. Here’s how it looked on the show floor at South by Southwest:
Lunavity is a concept by students at the University of Tokyo that’s billed as “human augmentation” more than flight. As designed, the backpack will provide jumping ability, more than flight (think early seasons of “Smallville”-era Superman), and will lighten the load of the person as they walk about.
Potential uses highlighted by the Lunavity team range from whimsical to educational: new sports, where everyone can do a slam dunk from mid-court, or science demonstrations that let students experience moon-like reduced weight without the elaborate trip through space. There are also urban planning implications, as jumping over two lanes of traffic or entering buildings through second-story doors could rethink how we design cities. (And, in theory, how military engineers design fortifications).
The freedom of maneuver offered by, essentially, a drone casually lifting every step puts this more in the family of military exoskeletons than proper jetpacks. And that’s perhaps where any future planners, thinking of a Lunavity -inspired design outfitted in MARPAT, should look.
This backpack is bulky, and with multiple engines (16 in the floor model, 10 in the concept art), it’s going to be loud. So instead of a new way to maneuver infantry, bounding over hills and short walls into combat, the Lunavity might find a home doing logistics and supply instead, enabling individuals to lift far more than muscles allow, without the full bulk of a crane or forklift.
If so, it would follow the path of Joint Tactical Aerial Resupply Vehicle. That machine went from a privately designed hoverbike to a scout concept to a more durable if less glamorous role: carrying gear, without a human rider.
Watch the Lunavity video below: