Earlier this month, we witnessed the first "civilian" flight of a real-life jetpack made by Jetpack Aviation. During our time at the test site in California, we also made a point of pulling aside company founder and CEO David Mayman to ask him where he sees this whole jetpack thing going, and his vision is much broader than you might expect. Mayman doesn't just see a future for jetpacks, he sees the future centered around jetpacks and other VTOL technology he's working on today.
As Mayman told us earlier this year, Jetpack Aviation is actually about much more than just jetpacks. He explained at length the company's plan to introduce a manned, multi-rotor Vertical Take-off and Landing (VTOL) vehicle. Often referred to as "flying cars," these are the type of vehicles that Uber hopes to ferry customers around in about a decade or so from now.
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You can find all the details of Jetpack's VTOL project in our earlier coverage, but this month we pressed Mayman on his vision of the future and where the projects he's working on today might fit into the grand scheme of our lives tomorrow.
First up, ahead of the VTOL concept, is a battery-powered Jetpack dubbed JB-12 that, unlike the JB-10 turbine version we saw demonstrated, uses ducted fans for thrust instead. This could be the first product that Jetpack Aviation actually offers to regular consumers on the mass market.
"The fan's actually inside a shroud, which makes it safer," Mayman explains.
Current battery technology doesn't provide for very long fight times, but Mayman's team is banking on that tech to improve in just a few years.
"In five years time, the battery technology in terms of the storage density will be massively different from what it is now, I truly believe that," he tells us. "The great thing is there are people spending billions of dollars on that battery technology, we don't need to spend that money ourselves."
Mayman is also optimistic that the early part of the next decade will provide the technology for autonomous versions of personal transport like the VTOL concept to work safely around each other, creating a floating freeway system in the sky.
"You won't need air traffic control," he explains. "Because as far as we're concerned, this is going to leapfrog autonomous cars to give us autonomous vehicles in the sky."
Mayman reiterated what he told us earlier about the VTOL project, which is that his company is aiming to compete in the short-distance market, for commuters and others looking to make relatively short or regional trips. Other companies like Joby and Zee.Aero are working on concepts that could handle longer trips.
"There is no doubt that we will all be transported this way in the future," Mayman says confidently. "And nobody will need to have a pilot's license. It'll be fully autonomous and the machines will be fully self-separated. Whether that's in 10 years time or 20 years time, I don't know."
Mayman concedes that the successful deployment of autonomous flying vehicles, particularly across a landscape as vast and diverse as North America, is largely dependent upon factors beyond his control.
"The technology is going to be there a heck of a lot earlier than the regulations and the infrastructure. We need places to land and we need regulators that understand that this is coming down the pike, which they do from drones."
Interestingly, the jetpack that Mayman is wowing us with on the day we came to visit the small test pad isn't just about making a cool, if somewhat gimmicky, sci-fi transport trope a reality. It's really about providing a proof of concept he hopes will lead to an opportunity to build out another Jetsons-esque vision that could be much more practical and wide-reaching.
"[The JB-10] is demonstrating that we have the engineering prowess and here are the other things we'd like to do with VTOL and here's the map."
For Mayman and Jetpack Aviation, the next stop on that map to a future filled with flying cars should be JB-12, the battery-powered version of the personal Jetpack we saw in person. Mayman says that could be ready to fly later this year.
The company is currently raising funds via an equity crowdfunding campaign to complete the JB-12 as well as the JB-11, which is a six-engine version of its turbine-powered jetpack. For a US$20,000 stake, investors also get the chance to try out the JB-10 on a tethered flight of their own like the one we witnessed.
To help get closer to Jetpack Aviation's ultimate vision, the current JB-10 model may also be made available for rentals or purchase through a network of dealers connected to the helicopter industry in the United States and via other distributors around the world.
Company page: Jetpack AviationView gallery - 6 images