It seems like nowadays anyone can come up with an invention that has any number of wheels or flying capabilities and call it a hoverboard. What does a real hoverboard look like and is there anything out there today that even comes close?
I have to admit, I’m more than a little miffed at all these ‘Hoverboard’ wannabies that are passing themselves off as the real deal. Lets take a look at what people are calling Hoverboards nowadays.
The electric mobility industry has been inundated with two-wheeled ‘Hoverboards’ that are really nothing more than incredibly cheap Chinese gadgets that are just waiting to explode and burn your house down. I get emails from companies in China on almost a daily basis offering to sell me these units for less than $130 each in quantity. Hmmmm, $130 for a plastic toy with a dangerous Lipo Pouch pack that is made as cheaply as humanly possible. I think I’m gonna pass on this one. Although it is entertaining to watch Mike Tyson fall off these things I would probably never buy one.
Verdict: Real Hoverboard? No way, Jose.
These guys are a whole lot closer to the real deal. They are working on a technology called Magnetic Field Architecture. While they have built a number of working prototypes shown here, Hendo seems far more interested in licensing their MFA to other companies than to develop a serious working commercial product. You need to ride their hoverboards on a conductive metal surface (copper is best) so that will limit the real world applications. That being said it is still the closest thing out there to what Marty McFLy escaped Biff with way back in the 1980’s (or was it the 50’s, I can’t remember). To watch an entertaining video of Tony Hawk the skateboarding legend and Hoverboard Prankster click here.
Verdict: Real Hoverboard? If only the streets were paved with gold (or copper, or even aluminum)
Lexus Superconducting Magnetic Levitation Board
You can’t buy one, and few people have actually even ridden it, but Lexus developed a Superconducting Magnetic Levitation board based on the Meissner Effect. It’s not ground breaking science, just technology that is already pretty well understood, just scaled up to carry a human. The hoverboard is packed with ceramic tiles (the superconductors, composed of yttrium, barium, copper, and oxygen), which are cooled down to around -180 degrees Celsius using liquid nitrogen. There are a lot of problem’s with Lexus’s design, mostly involving cost and practical application of this board are limited because it can only be used in specially designed skate parks with magnets embedded into the riding surface.
Verdict: Real Hoverboard? The closest thing that I’ve seen to the Back to the Future version, but the lack of practicality and availability gives it a thumbs down.
The Flyboard \ Wataboard
Jetskis suck. They are annoying and loud and expensive and most are dirty 2 stroke engines that leave an oil spill in their wakes. However, if you do own a jetski you can make it a hell of a lot cooler by blowing $2500-$6000 on a Flyboard style hoverboard (video here). This setup redirects the output of your jetski through a hose and you control the power with a handheld waterproof remote control. Your Jetski better have more than 130HP if you want to get more than a few feet of air. It’s pretty amazing watching the experts do their flips and tricks with this expensive toy. That being said I still like kiting a lot more, you can go out in relative silence and jump 35 feet in the air and do all the tricks you like without a disabled jetski in tow. That being said this thing is pretty damn awesome and it doesn’t cost $150,000 for one like the first water-powered jetpacks did. Just be careful not to propel yourself into your jetski at high speed while trying those fancy tricks. If I was serious about getting into this I’d probably get the most powerful 4 stroke jetski (300+HP) I could find, as 2 stroke engines are a serious PITA to maintain, much louder, and they are an environmental disaster.
Verdict: Real Hoverboard? Probably the closest you’re going to be able to get to feeling like Iron Man, as well as the best use of a JetSki I’ve ever seen, and relatively cheap to get into. Make sure your life insurance is paid up though.
Drones that are modified to carry people
Technically this is a misnomer because a drone by definition is something that does not have a pilot. Several people have taken large drones and made it so they can balance on them for short rides, generally over water (click here for video). This is not really that novel of an idea and many of the larger drones on the market can carry several hundred pounds without any real modifications. Using super high energy density Lipo’s you’re still not going to get flights that are very long until battery technology improves dramatically. Still I have to admire anyone who is willing to take a drone that costs several thousand dollars, strap hundreds of dollars of volatile Lipos to them and go for a ride over water. That’s my kind of space monkey.
Verdict: Real Hoverboard? I love that they are electric and I love that people are building these themselves, but the limited airtime and dramatic power requirements means that until battery technology improves dramatically the practical applications are severely limited.
The Flyboard Air
Designed by Franky ‘I’m crazier than you’ Zapata the same guy who invented the Flyboard is an entirely new concept which involves a turbine, a backpack full of jet fuel and a cheap little remote control. What could possibly go wrong?
For a video of the Flyboard Air in action click here, my favorite part is watching how nervous he pretends to be before he takes off. Nothing beats the energy density of jet fuel, so Franky (can I call you Franky?) just might be on to something here.
Verdict: Real Hoverboard? It is certainly the closest thing I’ve seen to what I would call a hoverboard in my lifetime. It looks like something out of the Jetsons future that we were all promised, but never delivered.
So which one wins? Honestly, I would say that the Flyboard\Wataboard is my favorite as it is the real world technology that is readily available that can make you feel like a superhero today. Kiting on water is my main personal passion and I tend to fly incredibly big racing kites in high winds because I love to be stupidly overpowered. There is no feeling that is quite as incredible as loading up the lines when you are ripping along at 30 mph and then jumping 40 feet in the air, doing a trick and then actually sticking the landing.
To me, the word hoverboarding represents more of a feeling, and it’s that feeling that I have pursued over the last 20 years of my life obsessively. While it is easy to get this feeling on the water, it is much hard to do it on land. When I am riding my snowboard with a kite in 3 feet of powder, I get that exhilarating feeling that I am on a hoverboard, and the ability to jump in the air is pretty awesome too. When riding in the woods on my Electric Fatbikes, if there is over 5 inches of fresh powder and I’m riding my 5.5″ monster truck tired Phat Phuk it also feels a lot like some kind of crazy futuristic hover bike. I have to pick my lines carefully because the bike literally floats around and more or less goes where it wants to, I can only suggest where I want it to go. I spent over 10 years micro skiing in the woods and spent all my time searching for powder stashes so I could get that floating on powder feeling. I would purposely push through the steepest trees anywhere I could find with the hopes that I would find a little stash of powder heaven.
What a long strange trip it has been.
The future is now.