Much fun for the media this week as a start-up punted a prototype hoverboard onto Kickstarter. It’s not quite the tech as featured in Back to the Future, but it’s close enough to get excited about, and hence I found myself being interviewed about it for Business Matters on Radio 4 and the World Service.
What I didn’t mention is that I have been enormously sceptical about the possibility of this product ever becoming real. I’m not wholly wrong about this, yet.
There are two big challenges in making a hoverboard a reality. The first issue is the ground effect that enables it to hover. The second is the power required to keep it hovering.
In this prototype the ground effect issue is overcome by it inducing a magnetic field in a special material on the ground — typically sheets of copper. This means you need a sheet copper surface to use the board anywhere: that’s not particularly practical for commuting and it’s not quite like the version Marty McFly rode in the fictional 2015. But you can see how composite surfaces may be embedded with the right metals making wider use easier in the distant future.
By then we may have better batteries. Though they’ve come a long way since the 80s, the batteries in this prototype can still only power the board for a few minutes at a time: again not very practical.
Despite these limitations though, the Hendo demonstration is a lot closer than I thought we would be able to get to a genuine hoverboard by this point. Even when you spend all of your time looking at the future, the rate of technological advancement still has the capacity to surprise.