Arizona State building jet pack to help soldiers run 4-minute mile

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In the world of American track and field, the 4-minute mile is the Holy Grail for male high school and collegiate athletes. That is, if you can run a 4-minute mile (or, specifically, break the 4-minute barrier), you’re pretty much universally recognized as a stud. This is especially true if you’re a high school athlete, as only five American males in history have ever broken 4 minutes in the mile.

Now researchers at Arizona State University are asking whether everyone can run a 4-minute mile—with the help of a handy jet pack, of course.

They are asking the question in concert with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, in an effort to help soldiers in the field.

“With the project being called 4MM, for 4-minute mile, our overall goal is to get any soldier, or any test subject at the time, to be able to run a 4-minute mile that wasn’t already capable of doing so,” says Jason Kerestes, an engineering student at ASU who is the lead on the project.

This jet pack could help soldiers run a 4-minute mile; photo is a screen grab

This jet pack could help soldiers run a 4-minute mile; photo is a screen grab

DARPA approached Arizona State because its Human Machine Integration Laboratory was already working with robots that could assist amputees, and DARPA wondered if they could build robots to help able-bodied people. 

“This could potentially be the difference between life and death,” says Kerestes, who also says that the jet pack is supposed to help soldiers increase their agility. “If you think of a Navy SEAL or an Army soldier that has to get in somewhere quick and do whatever they gotta do, but maybe get out of there just as quickly, so these devices can really help soldiers to not only accomplish their goals and succeed in their missions, but potentially save human lives as well.”

If you can’t get your hands on a jet pack, there are other methods of assisting athletes with artificially obtaining the hallowed 4-minute mark. The Alter-G treadmill, which is available in some gyms and physical therapy offices, uses an “unweighting technology” that temporarily reduces your weight, allowing you to run faster on the Alter-G treadmill than you ever could on the ground.

Of course, the treadmill isn’t exactly something you could use in a battlefield.

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