It’s pretty amazing that today we can say there are in fact hoverboards. They aren’t exactly the kind that Back to the Future 2 envisioned, but hey, we rode one and a world-record was just set with a hoverboard over water. Now, luxury car company Lexus claims to have a new kind of hoverboard in development. Check out their teaser below:
Lexus isn’t sharing many details on how this board actually works, or if anyone can ride it yet, but using magnetic levitation, as Lexus says it is, there are really only two ways to make a hoverboard.
The first is the way Hendo and their hoverboard operates — taking advantage of induction. When you put a conductive surface like a piece of metal into a changing magnetic field, this “flux” induces an electrical current in the metal. And because electricity and magnetism are inexorably linked by physics, this induced current responds with a magnetic field of its own. These fields oppose and repel each other, which can levitate objects (if the objects’ mass doesn’t fight too much with the repulsive force). It’s called Lenz’s Law, and it’s the same reason why a copper tube can help a falling magnet fight gravity.
Hendo uses a series of spinning magnets in the bottom of its board to create the flux needed to carry the board (and a rider) over sheets of copper.
The second way to make a hoverboard is to use superconductors.
So-called “quantum levitation” like you see above makes use of super-chilled, super-conducting materials’ odd properties. A superconductor is a material that has exactly zero resistance to electricity and expels magnetic fields from its interior. A certain kind of superconductor, a type-II superconductor, also kicks magnetic fields out of its body, but not perfectly. Instead, tiny magnetic vortices can pin a superconductor in place, or in the air, like turning a pincushion upside down. The result is the GIF above, and the most likely way Lexus is hovering anything in the teaser.
All you would need to make a quantum-locked hoverboard is a chilled superconductor inside the board, and a stretch of powerful magnets beneath. According to Lexus’ website, “Liquid nitrogen cooled superconductors and permanent magnets combine to allow Lexus to create the impossible.” Bingo. The concrete underneath Lexus’ board was probably a bit of Photoshop trickery.
While this is being hailed as a “breakthough,” Lexus is a little late to the party. Scientists all over the world have been experimenting with quantum locking or “flux pinning” for years. One team in Paris even made a hoverboard that they actually rode!
Even so, Lexus says that their board has been in development for 18 months and is currently being tested by pro-skateboarders. And it looks great. We can’t wait to get our feet on one.