To date, Gravity Industries’ flying jetpack has been demonstrated as a tantalizing glimpse of the future where daily commuters take to the air instead of sitting in traffic. But the company recently called on James Bruton, a talented engineer and hacker, to upgrade the suit with a helmet-controlled shoulder-mounted toy rifle, making the future suddenly feel more concerning than exciting.
The original design of the turret, made from a combination of custom 3D-printed parts, servos, and sensors capable of tracking rotational movements, featured a two-axis gimbal that rotated from side to side, and pitched forward and back, mirroring the movements of the pilot’s helmet. But that design proved problematic when Gravity Industries revealed they actually wanted to mount a fully automatic Airsoft rifle.
The redesigned gimbal was upgraded with a strong linear actuator to smooth out the rifle’s up and down movements, while the side to side rotation was eliminated as it resulted in the gimbal unintentionally hitting the pilot’s helmet as they turned their head from side to side. The upgrades work, as demonstrated in a short test flight at the end of the video, but Richard Browning, Gravity Industries’ test pilot, looks more like War Machine as he floats around a parking lot than Iron Man.
Throughout the video Bruton and the team at Gravity Industries make it very clear that the jetpack’s upgrades are nothing more than a fun experiment to see if such a setup were even possible, and, admittedly, I’d happily volunteer my services to snipe targets with plastic BBs while hovering a few feet off the ground. But at the same time, there’s going to be a lot of money spent before Gravity Industries successfully creates a flying suit that would impress Tony Stark—or one that’s safe enough for the average consumer to strap on.
As with so many bleeding edge technologies before it, making the well-funded militaries of the world interested in your creation is one way to help fund its development. And flying soldiers who don’t need big, heavy, and expensive planes and helicopters have long been a dream of militaries around the world. Even the makers of the Flyboard Air, a flying platform that’s about as close as we’ve gotten to real world hoverboards, was recently seen taking to the skies while its pilot was carrying a rifle.
There are lots of hurdles to overcome if Gravity Industries’ jetpack suit is going to become anything more than an air show novelty, including stability and range. But those also happen to be two things the armies and air forces of the world have already tackled and, in many cases, solved. It’s unfortunate that the easiest way to ensure the viability of a new technology is to strap a gun to it, but without an altruistic billionaire who’s recently had an epiphany about the true horrors of war, this might approach might be Gravity Industries’ best shot.