Quest For Earthquake-Proof Buildings Leads To Creation Of A Working Hoverboard

Chuck Bednar for – Your Universe Online
Ever since the world caught the first glimpse of Marty McFly’s hoverboard in the Back to the Future movies, they’ve been eagerly anticipating the time when science would catch up with science fiction and allow such a device to actually be invented. Folks, that time is close at hand, thanks largely to architect Greg Henderson.
According to Forbes staff writer Aaron Tilley, Henderson has spent much of the past two decades attempting to find a way to make buildings safer and more earthquake-proof. During his research, he developed a technique that uses electromagnetic fields to separate the structure from the ground beneath it during a seismic event, then looked for a way to test the technology.
As both a proof of concept and a way to capture the public’s imagination about his research, he and his colleagues from Arx Pax developed a prototype known as the Hendo hoverboard which Henderson claims successfully levitates about one inch off of the ground – and he has posted a video to the project’s Kickstarter page to prove it.

The Hendo hoverboard uses four disc-shaped hover engines which create a special magnetic field that “literally pushes itself against itself, generating the lift which levitates our board off the ground,” the company said on their Kickstarter page. Now, Arx Pax is turning to the crowdsourcing community for help in raising the $250,000 required to “put the finishing touches on the Hendo Hoverboard, to help us produce them, and to create places to ride them.”
“While our hoverboard is primarily intended to be self-propelled, the actions which stabilize it can also be used to drive it forward by altering the projected force on the surface below,” the company added. “Currently, this surface needs to be a non-ferromagnetic conductor. Right now we use commonly available metals in simple sheets, but we are working on new compounds and new configurations to maximize our technology and minimize costs.”
Tilley said the technology contained in the company’s Hover Engine development kit is able to carry approximately 40 pounds, and that the device features a battery that has an efficiency of approximately 40 watts per kilogram and currently has a lifespan of just seven minutes. The dev kits are available for $299, he said, while one of the first 10 working hoverboards can be yours if you’re willing and able to chip in $10,000 to the project.
“The Hendo hoverboard may not fulfill everyone’s expectations of how a hoverboard should work,” the Forbes reporter said. “Unlike the Back to the Future film series, Hendo cannot fly over hedges and water. The engine requires the board to be on top of conductive materials to serve as a secondary magnetic field… The main technological advancement Arx Pax is bringing to the table is the ability to levitate efficiently on passive surfaces.”
The technology is similar to that used in bullet trains that use Maglev technology, Tilley said, but at a fraction of the cost. For example, while a San Diego company estimated a Maglev test track would cost approximately $750,000 per meter for sensors and electronics, Arx Pax claims their technology would only require using track that uses the correct type of conductive materials and would carry a price tag of just $10,000 per meter.
As for the hoverboard itself, Josh Lowensohn of The Verge and Engadget’s Sean Buckley were each able to take the device out for a spin. Buckley called the experience “a lot of fun, but also quite the challenge,” while Lowensohn noted that riding the device was a vastly different experience than skateboarding.
“The easiest way to describe it is like getting on a snowboard that’s just been pulled out of an oven,” he explained. “Any sort of lateral control you’d have with a skateboard goes out the window. Instead, you’re floating, and often spinning as your body pushes certain parts of the board, adjusting its direction.”
“Was it fun? Unequivocally,” Lowensohn added. “Pushing off for the first time, and even later runs was a thrill. For the first time ever, I felt like it was OK for some electronic device to have a blue glowing light on it. It’s just too bad there wasn’t more space to ride on. The small demo area actually made it more difficult to get momentum, and stabilize myself as I glided gently into the waiting arms of my spotting team.”
Henderson also assured The Verge that the hoverboard was “completely safe,” and explained to Buckley that the architectural concept which gave birth to the device would be a type of emergency lifting system that would only be used to raise the house off the ground during an earthquake, not a way to keep a structure levitating 24-7.
Henderson told the Engadget reporter that the technology was in its earliest stages, and that the seismic safety system was a long-term goal. Currently, he said he and his colleagues were focusing on getting the technology to engineers who might be able to build on their work and develop creative new ways to use the system. He also promised that Arx Pax would work with any developers who purchase their $299 box and have a concept they want to see come to fruition.
“The most important piece of it all for me is the idea of taking away the limitations of how we think about problems in general. Not just thinking outside the box, but off the page,” Henderson said, noting that the hoverboard technology could be used to create new solutions to old problems. “When you do that – when you approach problems that were seemingly impossible in different ways – you’ll never cease to be amazed by the solutions you can come up with.”
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