Everyone still wants their jetpacks and flying cars the “world of tomorrow” promised them back in the 40s, but after 1989, everyone wanted a hoverboard.
When Marty McFly’s sneakers laced themselves up and he jumped on that floating pink deck, everything after it that even had the possibility of floating was deemed a “hoverboard.” Today, one company is claiming that it has finally brought the future back to us.
Meet Silicon Valley company Arx Pax’s “Hendo” hoverboard. It’s a working prototype that has a Kickstarter campaign launching today. Arx Pax’s founder Greg Henderson is asking for a quarter of a million dollars to get a larger project off the ground. That’s a hefty ask for a product which has burned our collective selves before (remember Tony Hawk’s little stunt?).
It would be easy to dismiss if it didn’t look like it actually hovers.
I’ll admit it – I was and still am skeptical. In my mind, the only way to make a true Back to the Future-style hoverboard is with superconductors. That kind of hoverboard works via a scientific principle called “Lenz’s Law.”
When a magnet starts moving around, the moving magnetic field – called flux – will create or “induce” a current in nearby conductive materials. Lenz’s law states that any induced current will have its own magnetic field that will oppose the original flux. In practice, this opposition creates magnetic fields that repel each other, letting you do some pretty awesome science tricks like seeing how long it takes for a magnet to fall through a copper tube.
But Lenz’s Law isn’t just for tricks. Magnetic levitation or “maglev” trains work on the same principle, except they use superconducting magnets to deal with all the induced electricity. That takes billions of dollars worth of materials and engineering.
According to Henderson, Lenz’s Law is also where the Hendo board gets its magic. “This is the first step…this is the Model T,” he told me in a phone interview.
Henderson is an architect who developed the Hendo board’s “magnetic field architecture” (MFA). This technology – the specifics of which Henderson did not relay to me – is a design meant to focus and layer magnetic fields using permanent magnets so that the repulsion provided by Lenz’s law can keep the board (and any riders) afloat.
Henderson’s MFA technology is then apparently creating and fluctuating a magnetic field above a metallic surface, and the induced current in that surface provides enough of a response that you can drop in on a metal half-pipe.
Seeing might be believing, but tinkering is understanding. To really convince backers that this hover-tech is for real, Arx Pax is offering “Hendo Hover Engine developer kits” as part of the Kickstarter rewards program. The kit includes the MFA tech that keeps the hoverboard hovering and includes enough metal surfaces to turn your desk into a Back to the Future set (for $299). The kit also comes with details on the inner workings of the MFA tech for backers to tinker with. That’s that kind of openness you’d want from someone promising you the future.
Henderson is shooting high with Hendo. “I think it could be the next extreme sport,” he told me. And for a product dealing with high-strength magnetic fields, the Hendo board is apparently pretty user-friendly. The magnetic fields generated are focused enough underneath the board that you “can put your iPhone right on top of it” and no harm will come to it.
There are drawbacks, however. Unlike McFly, you won’t be able to take this hoverboard anywhere. The magnetic levitation involved needs a metallic surface to work. As in the GIFs above, you’ll need a pretty sizable surface of sheet metal. And you’ll need to shell out quite a bit — $10,000 – to get one of the hoverboards that Henderson and Arx Pax plans on producing with the Kickstarter funds (however, for less money you can go up to Silicon Valley for a ride on one).
The scientific concepts involved are sound, though the inner workings of Henderson’s MFA are still a bit blurry. Arx Pax is making some pretty big claims – like its technology can be more efficient than superconducting maglev trains – that will have to be tested once the product is available to the public…or you could look at the patent.
According to the patent filed by Henderson nearly a year ago today, the Hendo board works by spinning permanent magnets around in a series of small electric rotors. When these rotors are whirring away, at a certain speed there is enough flux generated to lift at least 200 pounds. That too is plausible, and if Henderson is correct, the specific arrangement of these rotors is the innovation here.
Will the Hendo board turn out to be like the x-ray specs at the back of Boy’s Life, or will we all be McFlying high on hoverboards in the near future? Greg Henderson is confident the technology will go far.
“I wish you were here so that you could take a ride yourself.”
Kyle Hill is the Science Editor of Nerdist Industries. Follow on Twitter @Sci_Phile.
IMAGES/VIDEO: Courtesy of Arx Pax
CORRECTION: The original version of this article implied that Back to the Future (1985) had the hoverboard.