man wearing jetpack (jamesteohart/Shutterstock.com)

We were promised jetpacks. DARPA looks to deliver

Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is looking for ways individual warfighters can strap on a portable personal air mobility system to fly themselves to and from missions.

DARPA wants to hear from entrepreneurs and startups that can develop and demonstrate battlefield mobility systems – such as jetpacks, powered gliders, powered wingsuits or powered parafoils -- that would allow operators to transport themselves by air.

These low-cost, lightweight systems would be useful in urban combat, maritime interdiction and infiltration and exfiltration by special operations forces operating in hostile territory, DARPA said in its solicitation. Warfighters could be deployed from the air or launch themselves from the ground for greater off-road mobility without depending on helicopters.

DARPA expects such a system would come equipped with computer-assisted controls and intuitive interfaces for simple operation and fast, equipment-free set-up. The easy-to-use system should take less than 10 minutes to assemble without the use of tools, and someone unfamiliar with the platform should be able to learn to safely fly it with relatively little training.

With a range of at least 5 km at low to medium altitude, the personal air mobility system might leverage emerging electric propulsion technologies, hydrogen fuel cells or conventional heavy fuel propulsion systems. It should not need any other equipment or assistance from the wind or environment (i.e. a cliff) for launch or recovery. The platforms may be designed for one-time use or be reusable with minimal repacking/re-deployment actions, so long as they properly support the envisioned use cases.

DARPA said it is particularly interested in systems with designs that make them hard to detect and feature low auditory and IR signatures.

Proposals for the Small Business Innovation Research/Small Business Technology Transfer program are due April 20.

About the Author

Susan Miller is executive editor at GCN.

Over a career spent in tech media, Miller has worked in editorial, print production and online, starting on the copy desk at IDG’s ComputerWorld, moving to print production for Federal Computer Week and later helping launch websites and email newsletter delivery for FCW. After a turn at Virginia’s Center for Innovative Technology, where she worked to promote technology-based economic development, she rejoined what was to become 1105 Media in 2004, eventually managing content and production for all the company's government-focused websites. Miller shifted back to editorial in 2012, when she began working with GCN.

Miller has a BA and MA from West Chester University and did Ph.D. work in English at the University of Delaware.

Connect with Susan at [email protected] or @sjaymiller.

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