Where are our hoverboards?

Back to the Future Overboard

The idea of a hoverboard has held a special place in the hearts of science fiction fans ever since Back to the Future Part II hit cinemas in 1989. The movie sequel was set in the not-so-distant future (2015), and featured flying cars and hoverboards. However, when the year 2015 arrived many people wondered where our rad hoverboards were as predicted in the movie.

Good news though as hoverboards have been making headlines recently. However, these hoverboards are far removed from what the Back to the Future one looks or acts like. A true hoverboard is a board without any wheels which floats a few centimeters or inches above the ground. The ones we’ve come to call hoverboards are in actual fact called self-balancing two-wheeled boards, hands-free Segways or even glideboards.

However, there are a few companies that have been actively developing true hoverboards. Let’s look at three of the most convincing ones currently on the market (all of whom seem to claim that they’re the first of its kind but no-one knows for sure):

  • Omni Hoverboard

This hoverboard design doesn’t exactly resemble the one Marty McFly used in Back to the Future. It looks more like a quadcopter you can ride on. This makes sense because it does in fact use the same technology found in helicopters and quadcopters to work its magic. Propellers underneath the board push air downward that results in an upward force on the rotors which then allows it to hover. The board can work on both land and water. It can also move both up and down, and side to side just like a quadcopter. The downside is however that it requires a battery which in turn restricts flight time.

Despite its short flight time, the Omni set the Guinness World Record for the farthest flight with a hoverboard. It travelled a total of 275.9 meters (or 905 feet 2 inches).

  • Hendo Hoverboard

This hoverboard was famously promoted by professional skateboarder Tony Hawk back in 2014. On Back to the Future day (21 October 2015) Tony Hawk rode on version 2.0 of the Hendo, which he helped to improve and develop. The second time around it looked a bit more like a skateboard due to Hawk’s influence. Admittedly the video shows that even a pro skateboarder like Hawk struggles to stay upright on this gadget, which doesn’t give much hope that us mere mortals will be able to achieve ultimate coolness.

The Hendo uses electromagnets that produce charging magnetic fields to interact with a conducting surface. A major drawback with this board is that it only works on the conducting surface and nowhere else.

  • Lexus Hoverboard (or SLIDE)

Lexus (yes, the car manufacturer) created a hoverboard. Why? Because they can. The way it works is quite similar to the Hendo hoverboard (mentioned above). It makes use of magnetic fields and superconductors. When a superconductor is placed near a magnet, the magnet will start levitating. In the case of the Lexus hoverboard the magnets are placed in the ground and the superconductors are embedded within the board to make it float. These superconductors are in turn cooled by liquid nitrogen that refills every 10 minutes or so, leaving behind a whisper of “smoke” as it glides.

It is smaller in size than both the Hendo and the Omni, and it looks closest to what you expect a hoverboard should look like. Unfortunately, it only works at a park in Barcelona that was custom-crafted by Lexus.

Since getting your hands on a real hoverboard seems highly unlikely for now, we might as well take a look at glideboards being used by celebrities and everyday people alike. There are hundreds of manufacturers (mainly in China) currently pumping out these due to their meteoric rise in popularity, sometimes with disastrous consequences.

Reports of these two-wheeled gadgets spontaneously catching fire have been all over the news. Very recently three children were nearly killed in a house fire in the UK after their newly-purchased two-wheeler exploded while being charged. There have also been reports of some catching fire whilst people were riding it. Another simply lit up while sitting near a kiosk in a shopping mall.

There is no single reason being given for the rise in combusting glideboards. Some believe it is the lithium-ion batteries’ fault (a product already used in a majority of phones and laptops). The liquid inside these batteries are highly flammable and a simple short circuit (likely due to careless manufacturing) could easily spark a flame. Others believe it is due to people overcharging their gadgets which also heats up the batteries, but none of this has been proven.

Glideboards have become so popular in such a short amount of time that laws and regulations meant to govern its use and manufacturing are yet to be put in place. However, many airlines have banned passengers from bringing them on board, especially due to the uncertainty surrounding their safety.

Big cities, like New York and Toronto, have all set up laws to regulate its usage, banning it from use on public sidewalks and streets. Here people are only allowed to use glideboards on private property with the landowner’s permission. Also, many universities have banned the boards on campus grounds.

If these factoids are not enough to put you off buying a two-wheeled gadget, then the price might be the kicker. The cost of these boards can vary from $300 to thousands of dollars. The thing is, the most expensive boards are usually the ones with the best reviews and also more likely to be a well-manufactured product. You would be better off not buying the cheapest version you can get simply because of the potential safety risks. Some of the best brands on the market currently include PhunkeeDunk, Hovertrax, IO Hawk, Ninebot, and Swagway.