Wide-eyed children of the eighties watched in astonishent as Michael J. Fox (aka Marty McFly) shredded pavement on a hovering skateboard in Back to the Future Part II. The hoverboard was just like a skateboard but with one crucial difference: no wheels. His pink and teal-colored board had “magnetic” pads on the bottom and with a quick push-off could silently cruise over grass, pavement, and even water. While this highly desirable piece of movie technology seems very plausible, it’s never before been available commercially. I speak for all of us when I say, “Thank you for breaking my heart, Michael J. Fox.”
But dry your eyes — hoverboards do exist, sort of. Luckily, there’s another breed of “experimental” boards that capitalize on ten-dollar words such as “anti-gravity,” “ionic field,” and “super-mega atomic power pack.” The fringe science community promises a hoverboard that floats silently at up to 12 inches above the ground — without the use of fans, jets, or any moving parts. The idea is to ionize a column of air (i.e., make the air electrically charged) and then surround it with a cylindrical magnetic field which prevents air from escaping from under the board — sort of like a hovercraft with an impenetrable rubber skirt.
Some crazy-ass mad science will have to go down before you can cruise around on Marty McFly’s pink party board. But someday personal hovercraft could become a common sight as engines shrink in size and grow in efficiency; and fans become quieter and more powerful. For now, you’ll have to read a comic, send off your nickel in exchange for secret hoverboard instructions from the government, and have fun trying to find the brakes.
Daniel H. Wilson is living in Portland, Oregon, USA. After earning a Ph.D. in Robotics from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, he has gone on to author five super books, including:
- How to Survive a Robot Uprising
- Where’s My Jetpack?
- How to Build a Robot Army
- The Mad Scientist Hall of Fame
- Bro-Jitsu: The Martial Art of Sibling Smackdown