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Physics In Film

Movies and TV shows, when done right, are great ways to entertain and tell stories. They can be fascinating avenues for experiencing some phenomena we may never actually witness in real life. They can also be ridiculous or laughably awful when scientific liberties are taken a bit too far. Join the CR4 team here in the Physics in Film blog as we explore the good, the bad, and the ugly of the science and engineering we see on the screen.

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Do We Finally Get Hoverboards in 2015?

Posted July 29, 2015 2:14 PM by HUSH

Since skateboarding doesn't require enough agility and balance, next week Lexus will officially unveil a hoverboard. Ever since Marty McFly used a hoverboard to skitch behind a Jeep and start his getaway from futuristic greasers, hoverboards have remained trapped in popular culture consciousness.

At the time of the film's release, director Robert Zemeckis alleged that hoverboards were real, but that parents groups had them banned because they were unsafe. Perhaps this is what fuels the demand for hoverboards that lasts even until today. Hoverboards have crossed over into other films and TV shows, and most importantly, into inventors' imaginations.

There have been several attempts to make hoverboards come to life. Some of the more notable ones include the Mythbusters attempt back in 2004. In 2009, The Gadget Show host Jason Bradbury built his second hoverboard. Powered by two leafblower motors and a jet engine, Bradbury's hoverboard was technically a hovercraft, but it was cool nonetheless. Finally, in May 2015, we got our closest iteration to the hoverboard yet when Canadian inventor Catalin Alexandru Duru flew a hoverboard more than 900 feet.

Yet all of these appear to be outdone by the Lexus offering. In the short teaser clip, the Lexus hoverboard, named SLIDE, appears to be floating over concrete. According to experts SLIDE works via magnetic levitation (maglev). While there have been many attempts at maglev hoverboards before, they were either unable to support loads, or were proof-of-concepts for other maglev technologies.

A maglev hoverboard means that they'll only be operational over ferrous surfaces; the concrete in the video likely has crushed or embedded magnets within. The board itself utilizes a superconductor to eliminate oscillating magnetic fields. This is the same technology used on maglev bullet trains. However, the SLIDE will only work over designated surfaces. In Lexus's case they built a special skatepark. The superconductor requires liquid nitrogen fuel to remain at -321° F. Once the fuel is spent the board stops hovering.

Will LEXUS manufacture hoverboards? Probably not. They're an automaker, and even the SLIDE is part of an ad campaign for a concept car (that won't float). But the SLIDE has been an internet sensation, so they're going to have to deliver something now that millions are awaiting its debut.

The technology has been scaled down enough where hoverboards are a reality; the only question is who is going to be the one to make them accessible. They'll likely end up more like Segways--novel transportation options for tourists--than they will like depicted in Back to the Future Part 2, where toy OEM Mattel is supplying versions for kids.

So, want a hoverboard, just like in the movie? Buy one of the ones offered by Kid Logic: miniature models of that hoverboard really float (there's a DeLorean too) and will be on sale in the coming months.

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#1

Re: Do We Finally Get Hoverboards in 2015?

07/29/2015 3:56 PM

I want a hovercat.

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Re: Do We Finally Get Hoverboards in 2015?

07/30/2015 6:06 AM

It's best not to run out of liquid nitrogen coming down the ramp!

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Re: Do We Finally Get Hoverboards in 2015?

07/30/2015 7:25 PM

Needing a special magnetic track seems like a fiddle. I'd like to see a skateboard size hovercraft (with skirt) powered with lithium batteries. (We sure go to a lot of trouble just to avoid having wheels!)

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Re: Do We Finally Get Hoverboards in 2015?

07/31/2015 7:04 AM

Been around for years..however image insertion does not work. Oh well.

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