One UK entrepreneur has transformed himself into a real life Iron Man of sorts, and he says his custom-built exoskeleton with six attached micro jet engines could do the same for just about anyone else.
Richard Browning is an oil trader with a penchant for technology and innovation. But he’s also a triathlete and ultramarathon runner who might be just a little obsessed with pushing the potential of the human mind and body.
A few years back he began investigating ways to innovate around the possibility of human-powered flight but found that a few well-funded University labs were already making significant progress, so he decided to pursue a different approach.
“We said, we’ll stick with the human mind and body bit, but go for augmentation with a bit of horsepower,” Browning told me via Skype.
The result was a new company, Gravity, which launches Friday along with the unveiling of its first product, the Daedulus flight suit. The company claims Daedulus should be able to fly at speeds up to several hundreds of miles per hour, although Browning hasn’t been able to find a large enough test flight area to get it going that fast just yet.
Browning and others developed Daedulus over the course of 2016. He began by strapping small gas turbine engines to his body and gradually learning how to control them strictly with his own mind and muscles.
“We looked at the physics a bit and we thought, yea, this could work,” engineer Jon Reece says in the below mini-documentary produced by Red Bull.
“There’s no rule book for this, there’s no manual,” Browning says. “When the Wright brothers were learning how to fly, there were no flying lessons, they had to just learn.”
He describes the process of learning to fly the suit as similar to riding a bike or driving a mini excavator in that it takes awhile to learn how to move the jet-powered limbs in just the right way to move across six possible vectors (up, down, forward, backward, right, left) like a helicopter.
“It just takes a little bit of practice, probably a cumulative 15 -20 minutes and you’re there.”
Of course, unlike riding a bike, if you lose control or concentration (or run out of fuel) mid-flight the crash can be a bit more gnarly if you can’t manage a soft landing. Recently, Browning added a heads-up display that can relay his fuel levels via a Wi-Fi connection.
Most of the video footage made available shows Browning hovering or maneuvering around small areas in the suit, but he told us that it can really fly in more of an Iron Man “Hollywood” style. In fact, he said, it flies smoother when it’s more like six to ten feet off the ground and moving more quickly.
“As you go faster you do start leveling out and going kind of superhero style.”
Of course, there is a certain amount of physical effort that goes into controlling the suit, unlike with Jetpacks we’ve seen recently.
Browning says it does require a certain amount of arm, shoulder and core strength, but adds: “I think a reasonably fit person could do it.”
It also helps to be lightweight though. Browning weighs 160 pounds and says he’s strong for his weight.
His new company, Gravity, isn’t looking to turn everyone into Iron Man. In fact, Browning is more interested in becoming the next Felix Baumgartner than Elon Musk.
“It’s about setting yourself ambitious targets and then leaving nothing on the table in pursuit of that.”
But Browning has been approached by half a dozen people who wanted to have their own custom suit built, which he estimates could cost $250,000 each.
Meanwhile, Browning and Daedulus will soon go on a tour of sorts. He’ll be demonstrating the suit with a flight off the coast of Los Angeles as part of a partnership with Red Bull in June and at other special events.
So keep an eye out, a real world Tony Stark could be coming to your town soon.
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