Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Another Real Hoverboard?

A hoverboard is a fantastical mode of personal transport that works by levitating into the air. In imagery the machine commonly resembles a skateboard without wheels. Instead there is some mechanism, usually unexplained, that causes the board to levitate anything from a few inches to a few feet off the ground. Since the concept of the hoverboard came along in Robert Zemekis' 1989 film Back to the Future Part II it has become a major part of people's imaginations and science fiction. In the film the main character, named Marty McFly, uses a hoverboard to escape from a gang of school bullies. After that the hoverboard becomes an important part of several plot devices, both in that film and its sequel, unimaginatively entitled Back to the Future Part III. However, like the submarine and space rocket, this is happening long before any practical realization of the technology exists... or is it? After Zemekis' films were released rumours began circulating that hoverboards as therein portrayed were in fact a reality and that the movie producers had suppressed their manufacture because of fears that they were too dangerous for children to play with, and might lead to lawsuits from parents' groups. This is highly unlikely to be true; however the notion of suppression of technology is perfectly plausible and I believe it does go on, see background links below. Last year a company called "HUVr Tech" announced that it had built a working hoverboard exactly like the one seen in Zemekis' film and even had Christopher Lloyd, an actor from the film, do a publicity video; I wrote about it at the time here: That hoverboard video turned out to be a hoax, but other similar ones have come along since that are genuine.

This subject is not completely esoteric. It's perfectly possible to build an aircraft that is similar in form and function to a hoverboard from Zemekis' sci-fi imgination. In fact a Romanian-Canadian engineer called Catalin Alexandru Duru has just broken a world record for hoverboard flight, see: Duru's craft is essentially a small helicopter on which its pilot stands on top of it and controls it by moving his feet. This is fairly obvious when you watch the video of the flight. It's appropriate for fans of Back to the Future Part II because the movie is futuristic and set in the present year, 2015. And on the same day another news story broke about another real hoverboard that is far closer to Zemekis' cinematic creation. In the link below we see a skateboard-like vehicle moving in a similar way to Marty McFly's. It is definitely flying and moving without wheels. Its altitude is much lower though, barely an inch maximum; sometimes it scrapes the ground. It seems to be able to travel across water as well as land. It has been produced by the auto-manufacturer Lexus. It looks revolutionary, but I'm afraid in this case too the technology is based on publicly available science: magnetic levitation. Beneath the deck of the board are magnets cooled by liquid nitrogen to -197 degrees Celsius; just 76.15 Kelvin. The power to levitate comes from a superconductivity effect called "expulsion" in which the magnetic field changes due to the extremely low temperature; all the magnetic flux is concentrated into the layer outside the magnet making it far more powerful. Unfortunately this hoverboard only works on a specially built skatepark in Barcelona, Spain in which the floor is also made of permanent magnets on a track, see: The system will not be commercially produced and is clearly just a publicity stunt for Lexus, perhaps once again to please fans of Zemekis' movie in the landmark year of 2015. It also has many disadvantages. It's certainly not safe for children to use in case they try to handle the super-cooled magnets inside. These are so cold that contact with bare skin will result in instant frostbite. Also the board would only work for a short while. The magnets are encased in a miniature cryostat to keep them chilled down for as long as possible, but after a while they will inevitably warm up and stop functioning.
So is there such a thing as a hoverboard in reality that is exactly like what we see in the movies Back to the Future Part II and III, one that can do everything Marty McFly's can? I suspect yes. What's more real hoverboards could be even more capable. I came across a poor quality video a while ago that seems to show some kind of strange aerial vehicle being test flown. The aircraft amazingly achieves lift without the usual wings, envelope or rotor blades. Such flying platforms have been built using a downward directional turbofan jet engine to thrust it upwards, however there is good reason to believe that the aircraft shown is not one of those. It could be instead based on the discoveries of an eccentric Russian inventor called Viktor Stepanovich Grebennikov, see here for details: Levitation is not a recent idea and it even dates back to before the advent of conventional human flight. The magic carpet emerged in the classic literature of the Middle East, but could it be based on the authors witnessing real events? The idea that ancient people had knowledge that has been lost to the modern world is one I've covered before, for example see:; maybe anti-gravity and free energy were one of them. It would be wonderful if the secret technology behind real hoverboards could be made freely available before the end of this year. It would be the ultimate in life imitating art. Back to the Future fans would be overjoyed!


Neil Austin said...

Hi Ben.
So many roads seem to lead back to Eric Laithwaite territory.
I fear that my balance is no longer what it once was, but I would have killed for one back in the skateboard craze era of the late 70's. Alas, I settled for the plywood version from Woollies!
Talk to you on Chatwing!

Ben Emlyn-Jones said...

Hi Neil. I used to fall off skateboards. BMX bikes were my chosen mode of transport.