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Icarus goes electric

Austria’s Peter Salzmann powers through the air in his 300-km/h, twin-impeller electric wingsuit. Image credit: BMW

I have always looked with fascination to those daredevils in a wingsuit jumping off a mountain and speeding through the air like rockets. It marvels the precision they have in predicting the glide and the knowledge they can only go downward.

Now it looks like they may get the option to go upwards, using electric impellers to power their flights. The impellers, sort of turbines rotating at 25,000 rpm, generates a thrust of about 20hp (15kW) for 5 minutes. It does not seem a lot of power but it turns the downwards travel (a wingsuit loses one vertical meter for every three meters of horizontal flight) into an horizontal one (it can even support some altitude gain) increasing, at the same time, the speed from 100 km/h to over 300 km/h.

The propulsion system has been designed by BMW Designworks studio and tested in the BMW wind tunnel. The first approach was to design a backpack but after a few simulations it turned out that placing the impellers under the wingsuit would make them more effective and controllable.

The flight does not get any easier, actually it requires much more strength because of the higher speed. The daredevil has a switch for activating the impellers and can control their individual power.

It really looks fantastic (watch the clip) but it doesn’t get me any nearer to this kind of sport!

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.