Hoverboards are real! Now what does it mean?

October 30, 2014

The hoverboard first glided glided onto the scene and into our hearts during 1989’s sci-fi comedy Back to the Future Part II. Despite the outrageously fashionable high-top sneakers attached, it was the board that audiences couldn’t help but fixate on. Enchanted by till then undreamed-of future wonders, many fans began to mark their calendars for 2015 and count the days until the date of the device’s foretold arrival.
In the age of The Internet several hoverboard hoaxes capitalized on this ravenous anticipation, luring technophiles with hollow promises of casual flight. Most notably, earlier this year Funny or Die released a viral video featuring Tony Hawk, Moby, and Christopher Lloyd (who starred as Back to the Future’s “Doc Brown”). Thousands shared the video, sincerely believing it to be completely true. When the masses finally realized that the whole thing was merely a publicity stunt they were outraged, prompting the prank’s creators to issue a follow-up faux apology.
“If we inspired one person to get into the hover sciences, I consider that a victory,” Lloyd said. “Here’s to hoverboards being actually real one day. Go! Do it! Make it happen! For all of us! God bless you.”

Whether through luck, arcane art, or divine providence, Lloyd’s wish seems to have been granted: This past week a tiny Los Angeles company called Arx Pax revealed the successful creation of a bona fide hoverboard, and they intend to start selling them as soon as Fall of next year. Yes, that’s Fall of 2015 – the time period “Marty McFly” visited.

Levitating just an inch above the ground, the 100-pound “Hendo” can send an average-sized adult flying across the room with the slightest push, and it can be yours for the low, low price of $10,000. A bit out of your price range? Don’t worry, joy rides start at a mere $100.
This latest prototype, the 18th in its series of development, works by harnessing the mysterious power of magnets, and will consequently only float when placed over a metallic floor. User-controlled technology designed to float on metal floors has historically been challenging to develop because repelling magnets are notoriously difficult to balance. While this may be a limiting factor now, in time interested parties can build hover-enabled infrastructure to help control the device, like parks, sidewalks, and even roads embedded with metal tracks.
The real drawback to the tool at this time, besides its noisiness and lack of control, is the battery life, which currently lasts only a few minutes.
Its inventors, Greg and Jill Henderson, have acknowledged the device’s limitations, but they still retain big dreams for the technology’s future: Mr. Henderson was first inspired to design hover-tech as a means of combating earthquake damage to buildings, hoping to someday float the structures safely out of range of ground tremors.
Arx Pax chose to venture into the realm of hoverboard design because they believe it will be much easier to foster interest in the technology through commercial application at first. The company plans to license patents for their tech to builders, engineers, and any other interested parties, possibly including a super villain or two.
As is often the case with unexpected, new advancements in science, a variety of legal questions may arise in the near future as a consequence of this discovery:
When will hovercars arrive, and should we require a license to own and operate hover-vehicles before that stage of development? Will people be calling for some kind of liability for the manufacturer of the “Sky Stick” if the Green Goblin uses it to fly around New York City raining pumpkin bombs down on unsuspecting innocents? Could new forms of high-risk health and life insurance develop as a result of more dangerous forms of transportation becoming commonplace? Could home and accident insurance become more affordable for some if Mr. Henderson succeeds in enabling the existence of floating cities?
It’s tough to say which way the wind will blow, but with time and money nearly anything is possible. What is certain is that it’ll be terribly exciting finding out.