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Are you ready for jet packs and invisibility cloaks?


A British paramedic recently completed the world's first trial mission in a rocket-propelled jet suit, flying. But how far away is the widescale adoption of technological “superpowers?”

If you spend time in a bar with a group of friends, it won't be too long until somebody asks, "What superpower would you like to have and why?" Predictably, having the ability to fly or unlock the power of invisibility are usually the most popular answers. It's a question that has been debated for many generations and even appears in job interviews as employers attempt to see how a candidate can think on their feet.

As a child, I watched William Suitor with amazement and boyhood wonder as he flew into the opening ceremony of the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles using a jetpack. The following year, Back to the future suggested that Hoverboards would be another future mode of transport. Those magical moments from my childhood would ignite my passion for technology and arguably a lifetime of disappointment.

However, my childhood dreams could be finally coming to fruition. A British paramedic flew using a jet pack almost two kilometers on a test rescue mission in an area where helicopters would have been grounded. Gravity Industries, the company behind the trial, believes that jet packs will dramatically cut response times.

The 3D-printed suit has two turbines attached to each arm and a larger one mounted on the back. The trial run enabled a paramedic to complete a 2,000-foot climb in three and a half minutes. Technically, the jet suit can reach speeds of more than 80 mph and an altitude of 12,000 feet, but it's currently flown much lower for safety reasons. But could this finally be the beginning of mainstream adoption of jet packs?

Fiction vs Reality

The lines between fact and fiction continued to blur with revelations around government-funded research into invisibility cloaks. Chinese military scientists have also been able to hide equipment from spy satellite radar. But this technology is breaking out from isolated to secret government documents or cloak and dagger operations. So, could the superpower of invisibility be on the verge of becoming a reality for all?

A few years ago, Warner Bros. famously released a Harry Potter Invisibility Cloak that required a smartphone app and augmented reality for the user to appear invisible. Although it looked like the real thing and enabled fans to recreate their favorite "Harry Potter" scenes through photos and videos, there is no avoiding the fact that it simply wasn't real.

Disappointed by the lack of progress and unavailability of working invisibility solutions, London-based start-up 'Invisibility Shield Co' launched a Kickstarter Campaign to create a range of fully functional invisibility shields. The team promised to make invisibility available for everyone while unwittingly upgrading the traditional game of hide and seek in the process.

A precision-engineered lens array deflects the light from the subject hiding behind the shield away from the observer. The light from the subject's background is then refracted towards the observer, and before you can say "Great Scott!" in your best Doc Brown impression, they will not be able to see anything hiding behind the shield.

Measuring 950 x 650mm, the average person will have no problem hiding behind the freestanding invisibility shield. Of course, whether it's worth £299 will be entirely subjective, but I suspect that early-adopting Trekkies, Harry Potter fans, and creatives will be first on board.

If the idea of having X-Ray vision like Superman sounds appealing, you might want to check out the work by scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Its RF Capture system uses short-wave radio signals to track the movement of people through walls with up to 90 percent accuracy. Although in the wrong hands, this would be a sinister superpower, it's actually aimed at monitoring seniors who are at risk of falling.

Technological superpowers

In a cruel twist of fate, as technology begins to unlock the superpowers many dreamed of as kids, the idea of sneaking around in invisibility cloaks or watching people via X-ray vision suddenly feels quite creepy. As a result, many are beginning to explore a bigger dream using neurotech and genetic engineering to enhance human abilities as we approach the dawn of transhumanism and human augmentation.

It's been a long time coming, but we are finally beginning to explore the art of the possible. The only limit for the future is our imagination, but that doesn't necessarily mean that we should rush into connecting ultra-high bandwidth brain-machine interfaces that connect ourselves to computers. But make no mistake, the two examples of start-ups turning science fiction into reality by creating fully functional jet packs and invisibility shields are just a taster of things to come.

Rather than talking about what superpowers we would like to have, it seems that many in the tech industry are following Jean-Luc Picard's famous advice and can be found repeating the mantra "Make it so." But until then, what superpower would you like to have?


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