Back to the Future

So for those who haven’t been keeping an eye on tech news from Lexus, you will be delighted to hear that Lexus has been developing the worlds first, really working hoverboard using superconductors, often alluded from the famed technology proposed by the 1985 smash movie hit “Back to the Future”. Introducing to you Lexus SLIDE, a frictionless hoverboard designed to mimic (sort-of) how one would ride a skateboard, but revolutionizing it in the sense that the rider is no longer confined by the boundaries of friction and requiring wheels attached to metal trucks to depend on how it moves and turns. The board is literally hovering above the ground without contact.

The Technology

So how does it work? The short answer for those who don’t feel like getting too technically inclined with the physics, is magnets and superconductors. Still interested? Read on…

So, a couple hundred years ago, some bright minds discovered that if you move a magnet near a piece of conducting metal or wire, it will induce a current through the wire. Another revolutionary insight was that when any current is being generated, that current itself also induces a magnetic field of its own. In the case of a moving magnet by a conductor to induce a current, the magnetic field induced by that current (not the magnet) will in turn be of a polar opposite direction of the field generated by the magnet. Confused? That’s okay, people spend years in school working out the fine details of how these phenomena work.

To understand how these basic principles of physics help our hoverboard float above the ground, it’s important to note that the ground itself must contain materials that possess highly potent magnetic properties. The board unfortunately is not designed to work above regular concrete, we are not quite there. We can, however, put superconductors in the board and cool them down to about -321 Fahrenheit (approximately -191 degrees Celcius) using liquid nitrogen, which in turn activates the unique properties of superconducting materials to allow them to hold a current without an oscillating magnetic field. At this super-cooled temperature, the superconductors are able to produce an equal and opposite magnetic field to the ground below them, allowing them to hold the board and its rider comfortably a safe distance above the ground.

For those who don’t know, the force of electromagnetism is orders of magnitude stronger than the force of gravity as we understand it, so the act of using the superconductors in the hoverboard to create a perfect and opposite magnetic field to the surface below has no problems over-powering the force of earth’s gravity, even with the added weight of a fully grown human being standing on top. The hoverboard will have no problems holding these properties as long as the superconductors remain cold enough, which means as long as the liquid nitrogen lasts. Once it warms up, it will no longer hover until refueled with fresh new liquid nitrogen and we’re off to the races once more.

Mass Production

The answer probably no one wants to hear, is probably not. In truth, Lexus SLIDE is being designed alongside of a marketing campaign of an upcoming vehicle, and is designed to inspire the awe and wonder of people by using modern technology more than it is to put a mass-produced hoverboard on the market. The truth is that such a hoverboard still contains some severe limitations from every day use, such as the consistent need of a supply of liquid nitrogen, as well as a ground made up of special materials to use it on. To test the current SLIDE model, Lexus has put together a skateboard park in Spain whose ground material is made up of a highly magnetic materials in order to put the product through its paces with world-renown skateboarder Ross McGouran. Testing will be undergone over the next few months, and we are all excited from the videos, data and research that will come out of it.

Follow the Journey

The Lexus hoverboard will begin releasing active testing information starting August 5th 2015 via Lexus information streams and hashtag #LexusHover. You can follow the journey of Lexus slide on:

Amazing in Motion

Lexus SLIDE is one of a few projects ongoing with Lexus under their “Amazing in Motion” set of boundary-pushing innovation projects designed to harness creativity and imagination to combine them with the technology and engineering possibilities of todays most advanced abilities. Along side SLIDE, Lexus is also working on three other publically announced Amazing in Motion projects:

  • STROBE – a striking visual display of an illuminated man’s journey across a city in the still of the night
  • SWARM – shows the story of a swarm of quadrotor drones as they explore a city while the population is asleep
  • STEPS – shows the story of a larger-than-life figure illuminated brilliantly moving through a city in search of something close to its heart

“Through the combination of design, technology and imagination… SLIDE is a perfect example of the amazing things that can be achieved.” (Lexus)