Fans of the Back to the Future films might remember the stolen hoverboard that Marty McFly—played by a young Michael J. Fox—used to escape a band of chasing bullies in Back to the Future Part II, which was released in 1989. Appearing to be propelled by electromagnetics, Marty’s stolen hoverboard infamous failed to work as he tried to use it to cross a pond, indicating that the board was repelled by the magnetic force of the Earth itself. Most of us who grew up watching Marty’s time-traveling shenanigans probably recall wishing, and may perhaps still be wishing, for a real-life hoverboard of our very own. However, it seems that real hoverboards might soon be a reality.
According to news reports, a prototype hoverboard has been invented that flew its inventor a distance of two-and-a-half football fields, or more than 900 feet, while hovering over Lake Ouareau in Quebec and setting a new Guinness World Record. What’s more, a husband-and-wife team of inventors used the funds collected in their successful Kickstarter campaign to design their own electromagnetic hoverboard, which has insofar been a huge success and could be on the market as soon as next year.
Catalin Alexandru Duru, the inventor of the hoverboard used to set a new Guinness World Record for longest distance flown on such a flying skateboard, reached heights of 16.4 feet while alleging that the craft is capable of reaching even greater, “scary heights.” The ability of Duru’s hoverboard to reach such heights is why he usually conducts tests over the water, but it can function over any type of surface.
Duru’s hoverboard is propelled over the ground in much the same way as a traditional hovercraft. In the YouTube video of Duru’s record-breaking flight, you can see that he navigates and controls the hoverboard using only his feet. This is intended to make the craft much more user friendly and functional, something that almost anyone could step onto and be able to control with a minimal learning curve like the hoverboard from Back to the Future Part II.
Meanwhile, Greg and Jill Henderson—husband-and-wife inventors and the brains behind their company Hendo—have been working on something similar, though with a bit more of a commercial approach. The Hendersons launched a Kickstarter campaign last fall to raise funds for their own brainchild. They had hoped to raise $250,000 by the end of the campaign, but ended up with more than $500,000 by the campaign’s close just before Christmas.
The Hendo Hoverboard, as it’s called, operates using what the Hendersons are calling Magnetic Field Architecture (MFA), but what the rest of the world would know as magnetic levitation, or “maglev.” This is the form of electromagnetic technology that’s used in the new trains in China, Japan, and South Korea, which employ this technology to virtually eliminate the friction between the axles and wheels of the train and the rails, allowing the trains to travel and blistering speeds. You can see the Hendo Hoverboard demonstrated in the YouTube video (below) that accompanied its Kickstarter campaign.
However, the Hendo Hoverboard’s maglev is a bit different than that of the trains you see in Asian. Most notably, the Hendo Hoverboard doesn’t follow a track, but rather hovers over surfaces that are plated in copper. The science-minded might recall that copper is an inductor, which means that it’s a non-magnetic metal that develops and contains an electric current when a magnet is near, resulting in a magnetic field that radiates outward from the metal. When the field is of sufficient strength, it can levitate the magnet or, if it’s really strong with the assistance of electricity, any object that’s on the magnet as well, such as a hoverboard.
Powering the Hendo Hoverboard are four electrically-charged magnets, or electromagnets, that the Hendersons refer to as “hover engines,” which are responsible for the “primary magnetic field” that allows the hoverboard to levitate just over the copper-covered ground. “It stays steady because we’re using more than one hover engine, and when we do that, it’s sort of like trying to balance a unicycle versus a car — one wheel versus four wheels,” Henderson said. “It’s a whole lot easier with four hover engines.”
The Hendersons are very secretive about the precise architecture of the hover engines that they use, but they explain that combining the electric fields of multiple engines generates a more efficient magnetic field that’s at the heart of the Hendo Hoverboard’s technology. They also plan to offer a high-performance version of the Hendo Hoverboard that will have only two hover engines.
Currently, the Hendo Hoverboard will only levitate over copper, but the pair have alleged that the hoverboard can also be made to levitate over aluminum and a variety of other nonmetal inductors. Additionally, the couple offers a developer kit called the Whitebox, which contains scaled-back hover engines that will allow others access to their technology in an effort to “inspire co-creation across the globe.” According to Greg, they’ve already seen a number of very exciting uses for the hover engines, including innovations in transportation and health care, and they’ve even seen it used in a DJ’s turntables, which allowed the record to remain stationary while the turntable does the spinning.
It’s the couple’s hope that, if the Hendo Hoverboard gets sufficient backing with the right interested parties, the hoverboard will go mainstream and there will be “hoverparks” built specifically for electromagnetic hoverboards. As of right now, the Hendo Hoverboard is somewhat clunky to use. You can see in the Kickstarter video above as well as tests conducted by the Verge (video above) that most traditional skateboard tricks, especially those that involve the board flipping into the air, will be out of the question on a hoverboard; what’s more, it’s not currently possible to steer the Hendo Hoverboard like you would a traditional skateboard by leaning and shifting your weight, making it more for just spinning and gliding for the time being. However, it will certainly be interesting to see this technology continue to evolve and to see the form that eventually hits the market sometime soon.
What do you think about hoverboards? Are they a realistic inevitability, or just wishful thinking? Comment below and if you found this article interesting, don’t forget to share with your friends.