The Hover Board: How Close Are We?

No flying cars yet, but how are the backroom boffins doing with Marty McFly's sci-fi skateboard...?

When. Oh lord, when...?

I remember the first time I watched Marty McFly step onto his first hoverboard in Back To The Future Part II, and wondered why I didn’t have one. The answer to this is simple: hoverboard’s aren’t real. They’re fictional modes of transportation created strictly to fit into a futuristic film. Right? That’s at least what I thought. If there really was a variation of the skateboard that could hover above the ground rather than use wheels, than why aren’t these things all over the place? I would buy one, and I’m sure a number of other people would trade in their scooters and bicycles for something as cool as the hoverboard.

Casimir force
A team of Scientists at the University of St. Andrews led by Dr. Thomas Philbin and Professor Ulf Leonhardt, may have discovered the necessary mechanics behind levitation that could make the hoverboard take off one day (though it has to be admitted that the secret of antigravity might actualy have more significant cultural implications). They started out by experimenting with the force of nature that causes objects to stick together (magnetic repulsion). By reversing this force they were able to repel objects from one another, thereby creating what they call the Casimir force, and potential anti-gravity. In creating the Casimir force, Philbin and Leonhardt were able to discover the secret behind levitation and whether or not it would be possible. Objects capable of levitation under the technique are currently very small,  but it is possible that one day Casimir force will be able to levitate something as large as a human being. However, It’s pretty unlikely that hoverboard manufacturing will make the 2015 deadline of Back to the Future Part II.

Kevin Inkster on his hoverboard
Inventor Kevin Inkster, reported as being a huge Back to the Future fan, claims that the movies were his inspiration for inventing the Airboard. The Airboard, at least for the time being, is the closest thing to the hoverboard on record. It first appeared at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney Australia during the opening ceremonies. The Airboard doesn’t exactly look the way the hoverboard does (It’s huge), but it certainly works without the aid of wires or blue screen matting. Inkster’s Airboard can only elevate 1 inch off the ground, and like the original hoverboard cannot go over water, but only hard surfaces like asphalt and pavement. Actually riding an Airboard is described as being a combination of flying and skiing. It has an electric start and can get up to a speed of 15mph. They’re fairly easy to maneuver: you lean to whatever direction you want to turn and are able to adjust the speed on the handlebars, and let go of all controls when wanting to come to a complete stop. There’s also a minimum age limit of 14 years old.

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Kevin Inkster isn’t the only one who has been trying to find a way to cruise the airwaves in a totally futuristic fashion. The Hoverboard by Future Horizons have come up with their own form of the hoverboard, though slightly different in shape and use than that of the Airboard. With Future Horizons’ hoverboard you can levitate a whole three feet from the ground and go a whopping 20mph! The sensation doesn’t stop there however–driven by his own curiosity on science of the future, Jason Bradbury of BBC’s The Gadget Show also created his own version of the hoverboard…

Maybe the Airboard and the hoverboard aren’t exact replicas of the one Marty McFly takes for a spin in Back to the Future II, but they are getting there. Maybe in a few more years, when the technology has been perfected we will see hoverboards instead of bikes and skateboards. Look at what happened to the iPod—first it was a miniature brick and now it fits into my tightest pair of jeans without struggle –I say that’s progress.

19th January 2009