The summer's hottest blockbuster is the superhero flick "Iron Man" which stars Robert Downey Jr. as weapons designer turned superhero Tony Stark. In part one of this two part series, we looked at the advances made in building exoskeletons, particularly Sarcos Inc.'s new Sarcos suit which can lift over 500 lbs, is maneuverable enough to handle stairs, and can run 30 minutes untethered.
Having a super-powered suit is great, but aside from his power, the comic book character "Iron Man" had two other key attributes -- speed and flight. Without it, Iron Man would go from a superhero, to just plain super slow.
Fortunately there are some promising technologies to give the exoskeleton fighting suit of the future super speed and flight. This article, the second part of this two part series, seeks to examine a couple of them.
First in the category of super speed comes the "rocket boots" from Russia, which after decades is nearing perfection. Videos of the boots can be viewed here (in Russian language) .
The boots also go by the names "Power Boots", "Seven League Boots", "Quickwalker Boots", or commonly "Saigak Boots". Saigak is Russian for a fast kind of elk.
The boots allow the user to run at up to 22 mph, with little fatigue, yet are delicate enough to climb stairs quickly. They also get 70 MPG. The boots are powered by tiny diesel/gas burning pistons. They can carry 1/3 of a cup of fuel and propel the user 3 miles. Using the boots, you can also jump much higher than the standard man.
Viktor Gordyev, a Russian who attended the University at Ufa in the Southern Urals, originally got the idea for the boots when sweating out laps in his college's physical education requirement in 1974. It is unclear exactly when they were invented and perfected, except that Gordyev's work was classified by the Soviet government. In 1994 the project was finally declassified, and Gordyev was able to market his work.
Unfortunately, his company went under in 2006, after a lack of interest from investors. A demonstration at Disney World in 1998 went nowhere due to safety concerns. Says a woeful Gardyev, "They don’t have characteristics that would allow an ordinary person to use them.... [using the shoes involves] taking certain risks. They should work like a Kalashnikov. Reliable in anybody’s hands."
Still, hopefully the U.S. military and/or investors might find some promise in the shoes. The future remains wide open.
Next up is the rocket pack. The rocket belt was originally invented in the 1960s by researcher William Suitor at Bell Aerosystems. The pack had a 21 second fuel limit, as well as weight restrictions, rendering it mostly useless. The first test flight was made by pioneer aviator Herald Graham in 1961.
After decades of little progress, a new company, Go Fast Sports and Beverage Company, is designing and marketing improved jetpacks. Their latest model will retail at $200,000, will have a flight time of 9 minutes, a maximum speed of 85 MPH, a service ceiling of 250 ft, and a pilot weight limit of 180 lbs. It is estimated that it will allow you to fly 11 miles on its 5-gallon tank and is powered by a T-73 turbine engine. As pilot Troy Widgery says, who tested the pack at a recent arena show, "Not bad."
While the pack obviously would not be sufficient for flight and additional weight tolerance would be needed to handle the 100+ lbs from the exoskeleton and other apparatus (boots), it would at least get you in the air and allow you to briefly hover.
Need to really fly like a jet, like Iron Man? That's where the third and fourth inventions this article details comes in. French inventor Yves Rossy, a former Swiss jet fighter pilot, and current commercial pilot has invented a human-mounted mini jet, earning him the title "Fusion Man".
The jet features carbon fiber wings spanning 2.5 m, with four mini jet engines using kerosene fuel. The engines have reached speeds of 190 MPH over the Swiss Alps, after a 8,000 ft jump out a plane.
The wings helped him fly for over 4 minutes, landing by parachute. Rossy describes it in French stating, roughly, "It's like there's a big handle in your back, and the good Lord takes you by it and shoves you through the air, it's fantastic!!"
At a recent demonstration flight for CNN.com he elated, "It's one thing to do it on one's own, but to be able to share it live today that's extraordinary."
Rossy plans to use the wings to cross the English Channel next year.
Finnish inventors first developed the wing suit, allow men to glide along through the air. The company that produces the suits Birdman Inc. has launched a new project, the Birdman Rocket Team. Their lead pilot Visa Parviainen in 2005 and since has donned rocket boots for test flights. The two jet engines attach burn a butane/propane mix, at a rate of half a liter per minute. They provide 16kgs of thrust.
The engines allow level flights as well as climbing. Stalls are no problem to recover from for the skilled pilot, such as Parviainen, thanks to the agility of the human body. Flights could last half a minute or more at high speeds.
While the Russian Rocket boots, the Go Fast Jetpack, the Jet Man wings, and the Finnish Bird suit/rocket boots represent disparate inventions that would add extra weight and complexity, if combined, together perhaps their successors could combine to provide an exoskeleton with flight capabilities, much like Iron Man in the movies. It certainly wouldn't be cheap, and obviously the extra weight from the exoskeleton would be extremely difficult to compensate for but the rate of recent advances its look more and more doable. Here's hoping.