Would you commute in an Iron Man suit?

20 November 2017

Interview with

Peter Cowley, Angel investor

A British inventor, Richard Browning, who’s the founder of the company Gravity, has built a real-life jet-pack and flown it across a lake, getting into the Guinness Book of Records in the process. Katie Haylor spoke to business angel Peter Cowley  - who invests in tech start ups - about the invention...

Peter - The suit primarily looks like somebody who’s on a motorbike racing track, so it’s lots of protection, padding etc. because the chap is carrying six small jet engines or gas turbines. Each gas turbine, which has got an exhaust gas temperature of about 600 degrees centigrade, so you don’t want to get too close to it, is providing enough thrust together about 130 kilos to lift him, his suit, and an amount of fuel with it. He looks like something out of space really; he’s got two on each arm and two on his back to stabilize him.

Katie - It sounds like something out of a comic book. Why make something like this?

Peter - Because he’s an inventor I think and he’s just enjoyed doing that. I had a look on the internet and find you can buy these gas turbines; they’re about £2,500 each. Anybody can buy them; they take jet fuel - kerosene or paraffin; they generate thrust, and they will then push you, lift you in the air, and if you point your arms backwards then they’ll send you forwards.

Katie - Amazing.

Peter - But he’s also admitted that he wouldn’t want to go too high because he has crashed a few times. So, if you look on the videos, he’s never more than about 2 or 3 metres high.

Katie - Yeah. I think on the video he got to about 32 miles an hour?

Peter - Yes.

Katie - But then he went into the lake on one of the attempts.

Peter - Well it’s great actually because that’s a great place to land! In fact, there are two things he’s working on. One is an airbag, so it’s a crash bag a bit like horse riders have and skiers have, so if he does crash then he’s less likely to damage himself. I think he’s probably broken the odd bone as well.

Katie - You mentioned a little bit there, but what kind of novel engineering is required  to make something like this?

Peter - I think the most important thing is human courage actually, which isn’t engineering at all. So yes, you can buy the gas turbines, you can attach them to yourself. He’s worked out how to do it such a way that he’s fairly stable. It hasn’t got any auto-balancing so he’s having to do that by learning. The most important part, is protection of course, from these gas turbines otherwise almost anybody could do it.

Now he’s added things to that, so he’s now got a head up display. Because one of the things is if one of the gas turbine’s fuel supply is stopped, he’s suddenly unbalanced and will almost certainly, of course, hit the ground then.

Katie - Ah, oh dear. With that in mind, are these likely to become commonplace do you think.

Peter - I doubt it really because a) for safety reasons it’s unlikely that people will be using them in case they fail, and you certainly wouldn’t want to drop from 50 metres or 100 metres up in the air. And secondly remember there’s an exhaust gas there of 500 or 600 centigrade. Can you imagine what’s that going to do if you get too close to something?

Katie - Oh dear, yeah. It doesn’t sound like the ideal thing for a commute potentially if you’re stuck in a traffic jam or something?

Peter - No, no. There are a number of battery powered drones which is another way of looking at it. The great advantage of kerosene, is actually the fuel density is very, very high so you should, in principle, be able to go much further for a certain weight. Because, remember he’s got to carry the weight of fuel whether it’s the batteries or the kerosene than he would do with a drone.

Katie - Now this, and I think he says it in the video - it’s a bit of an indulgent toy at the moment, but could this sort of tech have more serious and long term applications?

Peter - Absolutely true in that we will have some sort of personal transport through the air. I’m absolutely confident about that. Earlier this year I talked about a battery powered drone in Dubai, which may happen or may not happen, so personal transport… Yes. Using kerosene powered jet engines… Probably not. I don’t know Richard - I’d happily talk to him on the telephone to find out what his view is.



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