When you first see the Lexus Hoverboard in action, it looks like something from the future. Or rather, something from Back to the Future. (Back to the Future II to be exact).
Developed by Lexus under the name “Slide”, the board hovers almost impossibly a few centimeters above the ground. When you use it, it looks like a normal skateboard. However, due to the technology required to keep the Slide hovering, we won’t be gliding out of the shops on our own hoverboard any time soon. You see, there’s a rather large catch.
Lexus has made a video that showcases this impressive piece of engineering, featuring skaters trying out the hoverboard in a skate park. At first sight, it might appear that the steam coming off the board is to give it a futuristic look. But the steam is actually liquid nitrogen.
The hoverboard is constructed from a superconducting material that creates a strong magnetic field. This allows the hoverboard to float above a magnet, as long as the material in the board is chilled to -197°C. This is where the liquid nitrogen comes in, which produces the eye-catching steam effect.
So what about that catch? The biggest drawback of this technology is that the Slide only works on a fixed course. Lexus converted a skate park in Barcelona to allow the Slide to drift over the ground.
“The magnetic field from the track is effectively frozen into the superconductors in the board, keeping the board hovering,” says Evico CEO Dr. Oliver de Haas. “The force is strong enough that the rider can stand and even jump on the Lexus Hoverboard.”
The Lexus Hoverboard gives the rider a lot of freedom — the board is able to do things that normal skateboards cannot, like floating over water. Lexus brought in skateboard star Ross McGouran to put the board through its paces.
“I’ve spent 20 years skateboarding, but riding the Lexus Hoverboard is a whole new skill,” McGouran explains. “It feels like I’ve had to learn a whole new skill, particularly when it comes to the stance and balance you need to ride the hoverboard.”
The sole purpose of the project was to create a marketing campaign for a car, but simply dismissing the Slide as a prop for an advertisement does not do justice to this very special piece of engineering.
Although other companies have also started similar hoverboard projects, not one of them looks as slick as this one. In Back to the Future II, hoverboards are nothing more than a piece of plastic and are so commonplace that kids can buy them in any toy store. But the Slide is a vision of the hoverboard as a luxury item that you want to be seen with.
The millions of views that the video has had, and the positive reactions to the video, show how desperately we want this kind of technology in our lives.
Although Lexus itself will probably not find the solution for a truly go-anywhere hoverboard, the company is at least considering the technology. That can only inspire other companies to take the progress that has been made so far and develop it further.