As a lifelong geek, there are just certain things that you always hope to see invented in your lifetime. From Star Wars’ Lightsabers to Battlestar Galactica’s FTL and Back to the Future’s hoverboard, there’s no shortage of great technology in sci-fi flicks to entice geeks worldwide with the tantalizing thought of their development in the near future. Amazingly, the hoverboard has arrived. If you’ve ever watched Marty McFly on his hoverboard, chances are you’ve wanted one too. They’re cool, they seem like an amazing form of transportation, and they are quintessentially futuristic. And if you were expecting LexCorp, Momcorp, Stark Industries, Blue Sun, or even Massive Dynamics to have manufactured it, you’d be way off. Turns out of the hoverboard of the future is a creation of Lexus.
Known for their luxury cars, Lexus doesn’t seem like the obvious choice to have manufactured the coolest gadget of the last fifty years, but they did. The first teaser video they put out showed a board hovering just a couple of inches off the ground with wisps of smoke coming from around the board. Just as someone goes to place a foot on the board, the image cuts away and you’re left wondering if this thing really exists, and if it actually works. Feeling a sense of déjà vu when you watched the film clip? That’s completely understandable given that College Humor pranked the world last year with a faux hoverboard that turned out to just have been a major hoax.
The hoverboard Lexus developed is no joking matter though. As it turns out, it not only works, but chances are it works better than you expected, with just a couple of caveats. First, a spoiler alert. If you’d prefer to not know how this machine works, you can skip to the end of the article where I’m going to encourage you to buy one.
Ready for some science behind the hoverboard? Then read on.
The Lexus built hoverboard works by manipulating magnetic fields. Unseen in the video, but present nonetheless, there are dozens of magnets placed into the concrete/asphalt beneath the board, and inside of the board is a collection of superconductors that make the whole apparatus work. Thanks to what is known as the Meissner effect, superconductors “float” in a magnetic field. Because superconductors don’t allow magnetic fields to permeate their surface, they cancel out the existing magnetic field and, for want of a better term, float through the magnetic field generated by the magnets embedded in the ground.
So if superconductors can already float through magnetic fields, why the wisps of smoke coming from the hoverboard? Those aren’t just for show, although they do look awesome. Turns out that superconductors have to be supercooled in order to minimize electrical resistance. Basically, if you want your hoverboard to not be slowed down by resistance, you need to supercool it with liquid nitrogen, which is what causes the wisps of smoke to form on the side of the hoverboard.
Since it floats through the magnetic fields created by magnets placed in the ground, does this mean that you can’t use it anywhere? Sadly, that’s exactly what it means. Being able to use it means operating it in select locations or installing magnets in the ground. But it doesn’t seem unlikely that in the future it could use the existing magnetic field from the Earth instead. Only time will tell. Because it’s not fully useable by the entire population, should you buy one now? If you could, that answer is a resounding yes. It’s by far the coolest project ever, and if you’re going to have the money for one, you’re going to have the ability to put magnets in the ground.
YouTube: The Lexus Hoverboard: It’s here
Photo credit: Lexus