WHAT started off as ‘another crazy idea’ has become a business venture for brothers from Hayling Island.
It’s something you could imagine James Bond frolicking around with on the Côte d’Azur.
And although it isn’t completely ready yet, a Portsmouth start-up’s innovative water toy is already making waves.
Brothers Simon and Chris Parke, who grew up in Hayling Island, have been working on the underwater jet pack for nearly three years, and hope to have the product ready by the end of the year.
What Simon’s colleagues thought was ‘another crazy idea’ has been developed and worked on and is now almost ready to be sold to the public.
‘I am not a skydiver but a few years ago I did a skydive with my old employer for the RNLI,’ he explains.
‘I am not passionate about any particular charity but I think they are fantastic.
‘We did this jump for them and I love it.
‘I am afraid of heights but I do not like to succumb to my fears.
‘The jump was great but I was not so comfortable about the landing.
‘I was doing it as a tandem and as we were coming down, there was this guy doing stunts around us using a jet pack. I was watching this guy going around us. I really wanted to have a go – it was great.
‘I started thinking about how you could do something like that underwater.’
Coming up with drawings of ways you could simulate the experience, Simon’s brother, Chris, was the only one who thought the idea might work.
‘I started to think about it and started to put sketches together,’ Simon says.
‘Most people can hold their breath for about a minute, and that’s the same length as a skydive, I worked out.
‘I thought there should be something to replicate the feeling underwater.
‘My friends said I was an idiot and my colleagues said it was just another of my mad ideas.
‘Chris looked at it and said it was quite a good idea and thought it could actually work.’
Simon has since left his job and now devotes all his time and money to the project.
The brothers have spent the last two years designing and developing the concept.
They have travelled abroad to test the jet pack, using Eastney Swimming Pool as a base for continual testing.
During the day, they use a workshop in Victory Business Centre in Somers Road North, Fratton, to work on the concept.
In the ground-floor workshop, owned by Portsmouth City Council, parts from all stages of the design process are scattered among shelves.
A collection of 3D printers whirr away overnight, creating intricate parts of the jet pack, battery pack and arm thrusters.
It is something the brothers are passionately wanting to develop and make close to where they grew up.
‘We want this to be a British business with products made in the UK,’ Simon explains.
‘The market we are trying to attract wants products that are made in Great Britain.
‘In the kind of market we want to attract, they don’t want things made in China.
‘We will be buying some components from China but we will be making it in Portsmouth.’
Having initially thought the jet pack would be aimed at the ‘super-rich’, there is now some discussion about bringing the starting price down to around £1,250.
A titanium version, also constructed using 3D printers, will also be available, to those who can afford it, for around £60,000.
Next month, the brothers will launch the product on a crowdsourcing website called Kickstarter, to try to entice online investors to help fund the production of the underwater jet pack.
Chris explains: ‘It is a crowdsourcing website and anyone can go on and invest in people’s ideas.
‘Rather than buying a stake in a company, they can help people to make their business succeed.
‘One reason why we want to go on Kickstarter is to get the product out to people and get feedback,’ says Chris, who has been responsible for much of the technical work.
‘Any changes that they suggest, we can take seriously and develop it for the proper release to the public.’