Big Strides: Personal Mobility & Bodyhacking
The modern human being is steeped in technological enhancement so deeply that we have a hard time picturing a world without it. We depend on lenses, screens, speakers and lights to do so much of what we do. But there’s one area tragically lacking in opportunities for bodily enhancement. I leave aside here the question of prostheses and medical equipment, although those technologies are awesome and worthy of individual coverage. The question I want to ask is, how can I make getting from place to place more fantastic?
This is a question with a lot of macro-level solutions that have already been implemented in the form of cars, trains, airplanes, et cetera. Unless you rode a horse you’re probably relying on technological changes of the last 10 to 100 years to get things done and get to where you need to go (If you found a way to accomplish all the needs of modern life on horseback, however, congratulations.). Clearly roads and cars and trains are useful tech. But where do we go next?
Let’s outright dismiss the Segway as a viable option. Although it succeeded in injuring many technology-minded teenagers to sudden and brutal disappointment, it has mostly failed to make a permanent place among humans. Unfortunately for their market share, Segways were bedeviled by the fact that they simply didn’t offer a meaningful upgrade from walking for most people and were hunted to near extinction by their natural predator, stairs.
There’s a recent development as well in the IoHawk, which is a sort of hybrid skateboard-Segway creature which is excellent if you want to look like you’ve really mastered Heelys for a couple hundred yards at a stretch. Unfortunately, with a price tag still sitting at $1,799.99, they do not seem to offer a meaningful path to the wide adoption unless people are crying out to spend the price of a Macbook on something they can stand on. Fortunately there are already generic brands popping up at somewhat more reasonable price points, but who can say if we can handle the promise and the grandeur of a board with wheels on it.
What, then, is holding back the future here?
Well, as we observed a few weeks ago, the human body is defined by compromise. But one of the things that our evolutionary path prioritized was a real facility with bipedal locomotion. You can’t beat millions of years of evolution to create a comfortable interactive mechanism – even with a sleek form factor and decent battery life. Walking is a pretty mature industry.
What you can do, however, is end-run around it. I am not an evolutionary biologist, but I am pretty sure that no matter how long the course of human evolution we weren’t going to get jetpacks without technological effort. Fortunately, that effort has been made.
Current and ubiquitous forms of jetpack (for a given value of jetpack, some consider it cheating) include the Jetlev Flyer, a kind of water-fed jetpack that produces a sufficient thrust from a continuous feed of water. Using the water as a source of propulsive material, you can fly (up to the length of your ingestion hose, frequently around 15 meters). This is an interesting advancement, although it’s unlikely to be a major part of your commute any time soon – if nothing else, it is powered flight on the human scale, and an interesting test bed for future jet propulsion control schema.
But the dream has always been flight, as near unfettered as could be. Though wingsuits and squirrel suits have made tremendous strides in this regard, particularly as an extreme sport sponsored by Red Bull and other various energy drinks, we as a species are finally starting to see the first development of real jetpacks. Seen here flying in formation with an Airbus 380 and tooling about above Dubai, Yves Rossy has been putting that into action. Although current models look more like an F-1 spoiler than the Rocketeer, the heart leaps to see them at play in the clouds above great and bustling cities.
This is ultimately what the advances in personal mobility mean. They are not merely technological achievements – although many of them are that (The Segway, for all its hilarious impracticality, had amazing gyroscopic balance tech at least.). They are not merely toys or efficiency-enhancing gizmos (although many are the first and some, at least in theory, are the second.). They represent freedom from the bonds of evolutionary decency. If bodyhacking is about discarding limitations, gravity is great fun to disregard.