back to article Back to the ... drawing board: 'Hoverboard' will disappoint Marty McFly wannabes

The internet is aflutter over the Kickstarter campaign for the "Hendo Hoverboard", a magnetically levitating toy that the firm alleges will be available on October 21, 2015 – the same day that Michael J Fox programmed into the De Lorean for the second Back to the Future film. hoverboard As a consumer device it looks a little …

  1. HMB

    Great Scott!

    My hat is off to them. I am almost tempted to get me some copper sulphate and start electro plating!! :P

    So MFA maglev, that really going to be possible then? Can we expect a working production train before either HS2 or the perfection of Nuclear Fusion?

    I'm not cynical really, I love my tablet, my phone and my computer they struggled to imagine in 1985.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Great Scott!

      Any IRL, independently-verified, filmed-in-front-of-a-studio-audience proof of concept? Throwing money at a Kickstarter pie-in-the-sky is the oh! so popular thing to do right now but I can hope for some reality to back up the promises.

    2. PleebSmash

      Re: Great Scott!

      2015: The year we sob in our terrestrial cars, clutching hoverboards made from spare lawn mower parts and swigging Pepsi Throwback.

    3. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

      Saw this type of mag lev in action in 1985

      Take a big coil of thick copper wire, plug it into the mains and drop it on a thick sheet of aluminium. The coil will hover and try to fall off the edge of the sheet. If you drill a hole in the sheet, the coil will hover over the hole because moving away takes it further from an edge. With two sheets, you can pretend your coil is a train, and the gap between the sheets is the track. Turn it off before the insulation on your copper wire melts. Afterwards, you can wonder why your train ticket, credit card and floppy disks (1985-style data storage device) don't work.

      If you are going to try this on a copper plated surface, be sure to film it. The huge currents in a thin layer of copper will heat things up fast. What happens next depends on what you copper plated. You can get a nice bubbly effect by vaporising the resin in fibreglass. The bumps will break the copper into flakes, which will be scattered by the alternating magnetic field. Your expensive board will then drop onto the hot fibreglass resin.

      Control circuits that keep the board level would have been difficult to fit on a board in 1985. Control circuits that keep the board from zooming off the edge of the conductor and the 7 minute battery life are impressive now.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Great Scott!

      "I'm not cynical really, I love my tablet, my phone and my computer they struggled to imagine in 1985."

      Yep.. still waiting for my holographic project of Jaws..

    5. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Great Scott!

      "My hat is off to them."

      Me too!

      "I am almost tempted to get me some copper sulphate and start electro plating!!"

      A cheaper alternative non-ferrous conductor might be roles of aluminium baking foil glued to some ply or chipboard :-)

  2. Long John Brass Silver badge

    The device emits a loud buzzing and crackling sound during operation.

    How is that a downside?

    Seems like a must have feature to me!

    1. P. Lee Silver badge

      Re: The device emits a loud buzzing and crackling sound during operation.

      Is there a chance of riding in on a storm of blue lightning?

      I'm torn between "Yes please!" and the obvious downside.

  3. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge

    Earthquake Proofing?

    The idea is that when there's a whole lot of shaking going on, a building can levitate a few inches and escape a quake's shakes

    Are they forgetting that earthquakes shake up and down as well as side to side?

    So you've levitated your building a few inches off the ground, and then a vertical wave comes along and slams the surface of the earth into the underside of your levitated building. It may be overly simplistic but it seems to me that this would be far more destructive to the building than having it perched atop a damper, or even leaving it sitting directly on a solid foundation. A bit like the difference between being pushed and being punched with the same expenditure of energy, I would imagine.

    1. Black Betty

      Re: Earthquake Proofing?

      Ever tried pushing two magnets together?

      1. DropBear Silver badge

        Re: Earthquake Proofing?

        Ever heard about inertia...? It's the stuff that makes even incredibly repelling particles slam into each other - hint: look up "inertial confinement"...

        1. Robert Helpmann?? Silver badge

          Re: Earthquake Proofing?

          Much more entertaining is the idea of leaving the floating house thing on by default. You would still have to have fail-safes to avoid damage due to loss of power or hooliganism involving your house, a length of rope, and a truck. Too, the power bill would be a bit high (perhaps requiring a local install of one of Lockheed Martin's truck-sized fusion reactors), but it would certainly be cool to look at.

      2. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge

        @Black Betty

        If the force of the earthquake is transferred across the levitation gap, then the levitation gap isn't doing anything useful.

  4. Cryo

    They should have gone with hovertoasters...

    People will pay to fund anything thrown on kickstarter, so long as it makes sufficiently sensationalist claims. It's an interesting project, but the hoverboard itself seems unlikely to ever become an actual product.

    Compared to a simple skateboard, it's deficient in practically every way. Its biggest issue is that it can only function on certain metal surfaces, whereas the main draw of the fictional hoverboard that it's trying to play off of was that it could operate smoothly over any type of surface. The chances of there ever being specially designed copper-plated skate parks to use them in seem incredibly slim. It also appears to be much heavier and far less maneuverable than a skateboard. They also seem to have conveniently silenced the horrible ear-piercing screeching noise it makes during operation in their kickstarter videos. What's the point of a hoverboard if it's clearly worse in every way then a piece of wood with wheels on it?

    As for using it to stabilize buildings, I can't see how hovering a building would work any better than existing Earthquake-proofing techniques used in modern structures, and it would probably just increase the potential for failure. And that's assuming you can even reliably hover a skyscraper over its foundation. There's probably some use for their electromagnets somewhere, but they don't seem to have any clear idea of what that might be.

    Then there's this quote from their "Will it ever be affordable" question...

    "Look at computers - only 15 years ago memory cost around $100 per Gigabyte; now its around $.01!"

    What kind of memory are they talking about? RAM was around $1000 per GB 15 years ago, and is around $10 per GB now, while hard drives were around $20 per GB, and are now around $0.04 per GB. Neither of those add up to anywhere near the reduction in price they suggested for that time frame. And of course, their product isn't even the kind to benefit from cost-reduction due to miniaturization, making it a terrible analogy.

    1. Anomalous Cowshed

      Re: They should have gone with hovertoasters...

      If I remember correctly, in 1996 i bought a 4 Megabyte memory expansion for a Toshiba portable, and it was £400, that's £100 per Mb, i.e. £100,000 per Gb. In those days, a 1 bedroom apartment in central London (30-40 m2) was around the same price as a Gb of memory. Now memory is less than £10 per Gb (I mean RAM) and the apartment is close to £1 can buy a small super computer for that price.

      1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

        Re: They should have gone with hovertoasters...

        Ah, these young folk... I bought half a k - two chips of four bits by 512 - in 1978 or 1979, and it cost me a tenner a chip.

        Which is two million quid a gigabyte.

        1. Anomalous Cowshed

          Re: They should have gone with hovertoasters...

          Hehe, grandpa! It's mad isn't it! Don't forget to factor in inflation! If you'd had a laptop with 8 Gb of memory in 1996, you'd have had enough money to buy a house in Kensington. And if you'd had that in your day, well, you'd be Bill Gates!

  5. stucs201
    Thumb Up

    Well it might have limitations...

    ...but this is still unusually on-time for the arrival of the future. Even with the limitations BTTF2 is looking like it might be more accurate than much of Tommorow's World ever was.

  6. imanidiot Silver badge

    Hover? Possibly. Controlable? Probably not.

    It might be possible to get a board to float above a non-ferric conductor with some electromagnets. With some good design and switching electronics you might even be able to do it without melting either your board or the surface conductor.

    Controlling the thing is a different matter though. I doubt they can pull that off.

    1. stucs201

      Re: Hover? Possibly. Controlable? Probably not.

      They already have some reasonably convincing video of a remote control steerable hovering thing. Certainly looks good enough control for the RC toy market.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re. limitations

    Hi, if anyone is interested I have done some fascinating work on solving the infamous "charge density wave" (CDW) limitation on HTSCs which prevents them working reliably much above 164K.

    I actually have a formula (yet to test), have forwarded it on to a few folks in the hopes that it isn't just pie in the sky and it actually will work around 229K (-53C) allowing the system to work with only a fairly simple closed circuit cryocooler.

    It seems that the problem isn't so much charge density waves as that the fixes for them prevent superconductivity in the first place; this is what I have fixed.

    Will keep you posted.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Re. limitations

      Doc! Is that you??!

      What happened to keeping a low profile?

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re. More innovations

    Suggest that somehow harvesting argon from the air, spraying it onto the surface using a laminar flow system and then ionizing the surface via OAUGDP would allow it to hover over anything flat and porous.

    I did wonder if that was how the WEAV system (wingless electromagnetic aerial vehicle) worked but it turns out that upon further research they were going to use onboard gas source to get around the altitude limit.

    Essentially a WEAV is the electromagnetic analog of a helicopter and thus horribly inefficient much above 40K feet.

    One possible improvement, how about simply spraying good old fashioned potassium and calcium chloride onto the surface, as it would be highly conductive for long enough to maintain a stable hover.

    As the board is moving it would have to spray ahead, predicting motion of the rider but this is more of an engineering problem.

    1. Gartal

      Re: Re. More innovations

      Isn't this basically Spiderman but as run over by a steam roller?

      We would of course have 1.7 oodles of vaguely grass coloured persons complaining about the potassium infecting their bananas and causing heart attacks.

  9. John Robson Silver badge


    Is water sufficiently conductive?

    Given enough dissolved ions....

    1. stucs201

      Re: Water

      Depends on the model. You need *power* for water. Marty's didn't work, Griff's did.

    2. tony2heads

      Re: Water

      Seawater maybe

      Ahoy me hearties ; hoist the mainsail and away we hover!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Water

        A hovering, seafaring, noisy vehicle with poor fuel efficiency?

        Invented in Britain about half a century ago. Still more practical than this, and likely more useable over different materials...

  10. JDX Gold badge

    Battery life isn't a problem

    7 minutes is more than long enough to fall off and crack your head. And it would probably take a while before most of us had the fitness to use it more than 7min anyway :)

  11. Lionel Baden

    Wow so many cynics here

    I am pretty surprised to see so many people here just exclaim it a useless waste of time.

    the fact that they have been able to control to movement over a sheet of metal, is pretty impressive imo.

    in regards to power failure during an earthquake, i am sure batteries and generator would be sufficient to power.

    My mind is racing about what this could be used for,

    1. Hans 1 Silver badge

      Re: Wow so many cynics here

      Exactly how much power do you need to lift a 150 ton building ? Thought so ... on batteries, Christ, you have some pretty good kit, there, mate ...

      1. Steven Raith

        Re: Wow so many cynics here

        Construct the building out of batteries, rebuild it every three years with new batteries?

        Problem solved made ten times more complicated.

    2. Gartal

      Re: Wow so many cynics here

      "a useless waste of time." What pray tell constitutes a useful waste of time? Redundant redundancies perchance?

      Otherwise agree with you. A classic case of getting something to market which demonstrates a principle in order to get funding to make something really useful. Like a hover skateboard.

  12. DropBear Silver badge

    So are we inventing the zero-g fountain pen again instead of using a bloody pencil to write...? Any unpowered damper/rubber/spring-based anti-earthquake system is by default better than one that needs power to operate. Whatever happened to plain engineering common sense these days?!?

    1. mmiied


      the pen was a ball point. it was made by a commercial company who sold it for lots of money as a novelty and give it to NASA cheep and both the USA and the Russians used it because it was far superior to pencils witch leave floating bits of flammable wood in your space capsule.

      other than that good comparison.

    2. Midnight

      Plain engineering common sense is too busy telling people not to use pencils inside space capsules.

  13. Spleen

    Oh look, another Kickstarter "project". I can't wait to ride my hoverboard while playing Mythic: Of Gods And Men and eating Kobe beef jerky.

    1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

      There's more chance of this being released than Star Citizen...

    2. NumptyScrub

      Oh look, another Kickstarter "project". I can't wait to ride my hoverboard while playing Mythic: Of Gods And Men and eating Kobe beef jerky.

      I am currently playing Planetary Annihilation and the Elite:Dangerous beta in between Destiny sessions. A couple of friends have a Pebble.

      I'm still waiting for these scammers to actually deliver my grandiose silicate beer containment unit though >.<

  14. amanfromearth


    It's just a floaty thing with very little in common with a skateboard. There's no way to control the direction what with no friction and all.

    I'd guess most would be fed up of it a long time before the 7 minute battery is flat, assuming they haven't been carted off to casualty already.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Attn: El Reg journalists:

    Just don't use it. Ever. Not in the right sense (it's confusing for most) and certainly not in the wrong sense (annoying for the rest). Unless you are making some sort of meta-point about linguistics.

  16. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    Pants way to do a hoverboard..

    Now a layer of flagellum motors driven by an ATP supply would be clever.

    Probably a bit limited in its maximum altitude to no more than a Km however.

    1. NumptyScrub

      Re: Pants way to do a hoverboard..

      Prior art: His Noodly Magnificence

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re. Re: Wow so many cynics here

    Considering that another team is working on gravity modification, methinks there will be another Kickstarter very shortly.

    The original idea was feasible in 1990 but it has taken until now to get the high efficiency brushless motors, high field neodymium magnets, precision machining and batteries to generate the 3kW needed to lift the board for more than a few seconds at a time.

    Maybe broadcast power using lasers? not totally unfeasible and a relatively unobtrusive 10.7um blocking pair of goggles would solve that problem.

    Doesen't need to be on all the time mind you, only when charging.

    1. P. Lee Silver badge

      Re: Re. Wow so many cynics here

      Surely the wrong way around. Put the power/magnets in the floor and plate the board. Use sensors to detect the board so you don't power the whole floor.

      Simples. Now about the cost of the magnets...

  18. CaptainBanjax

    How much weight...

    Can these things carry? Plating a warehouse and making a floating pump truck would be useful for moving stuff around. With no friction even a full pallet would be easy to manouvre.

    Plating the bottom of lorries would work too.

    Plus you'd be less dependent on cleaner warehouses!

    1. harmjschoonhoven
      Thumb Up

      Re: How much weight...

    2. pmb00cs

      Re: How much weight...

      Are you sure of that? Yes it would be easier to get moving, but have you ever tried to stop a full pallet on a pallet truck once it's moving? And in that situation friction is working in your favour!

      Reducing friction will be good, but it won't negate momentum, and momentum for a heavy object is always going to be a bitch.

  19. batfastad


    In the 80s I was promised maglev trains. When will we get some?

    Since our gov wants to spend £40bn of our money to buy us all a new high speed train set (that noone has actually asked for (democracy dear boy)) to drain the North 15-20% faster, then I at least want it to be interesting and not some Victorian throwback by the time it's completed in 2040.

  20. batfastad

    Levitating house?

    So when an earthquake hits is the copper surface underneath also going to have an electro-magnetic layer underneath that? And the copper surface underneath that and ... etc

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