The Inaccurate Predictions Of Back To The Future

Sometime this evening, after we haven’t rehydrated a pizza for dinner, all of the events portrayed in Back To The Future will have happened in the past. This is it. This is the day all your dreams die.

So, what’s so special about the technology in Back To The Future that we don’t have now? Hoverboards, obviously, but a lot of people have been doing their part to make sure we have something like a hoverboard on this important day. Last week, the record for the longest hoverboard flight was broken by a Canadian company making large multirotor platforms. While it’s called a hoverboard, it’s really not in the spirit of the device that would recreate the skateboard chase scene in front of Hill Valley’s courthouse. For that, you’ll need something that doesn’t use propellers, at least.

There’s a better way to construct a hoverboard than by strapping a few blenders to your feet. Last summer, Lexus built one with superconducting materials and magnets. Yes, it’s effectively the same demonstration you’ve always seen with superconducting materials, only this time it’s dressed up with pro skaters. There are tens of thousands of dollars worth of magnets in the Lexus hoverboard, making this entirely impractical for anyone who wants to build their own.

next-yearThere is another option if you want a hoverboard. This day, last year, Hendo Hoverboards launched a Kickstarter with the best media blitz we’ve ever seen. They built a hoverboard that is basically a quadcopter, but instead of propellers, they use magnets. These magnets produce eddy currents in the metallic, non-ferrous ‘hover surface’. The grand prize for this Kickstarter? Today, October 21, 2015, you’ll be invited to a VIP event where you will not only get to ride a hoverboard, you’ll get one to take home. Price: $10,000.

News Drones
News drones. People still read newspapers.

This company isn’t in the market of building hoverboards; they have a much, much more grandiose idea: the founder wants to use hoverboards as a stepping stone to an active earthquake mitigation strategy for buildings. Yes, buildings can hover inches above their foundation, just in case an earthquake strikes. You say the power might go out during an earthquake, causing the building to fall inches to the ground? I never said it was a good idea.

Lucky for us, the Hendo hoverboard did prove to be a proof of concept that a ‘spinning magnet’ hoverboard is capable of supporting the weight of a rider. We know a few people have been working on this technology before the Hendo hoverboard was announced, and replicating the Hendo hoverboard build shouldn’t cost more than about $1000 USD. We’re eventually going to have to do this, and we’re going to replicate the Pitbull hoverboard, bojo, because we want powah.

So, what else of Back to the Future Part II hasn’t become a reality? News drones. People don’t read newspapers anymore. Self-driving cars are more realistic than hovercar conversions. Pepsi Perfect exists, but only at a Comic Con. Nike Air Mags exist, but not with power laces. The world of Hill Valley still has fax machines, and I really want to rehydrate a pizza.

cubbiesIt’s alright, most of the technology of Back to the Future was just a joke; ‘Queen Diana’ would have never happened, and what exactly was the point of Gray’s Sports Almanac if you can look everything up on the Internet?

There was one possibly accurate prediction in Back to the Future: The Chicago Cubs may win the 2015 World Series. Let me repeat that, for effect. The most accurate prediction of the future given to us in Back to the Future was that the Chicago Cubs win the World Series. That’s how inaccurate Back To The Future was.

The French Built the Superconducting Hoverboard 4 Years Before Lexus

The internet only just got over Lexus’ real working hover board, but as it turns out, a team of researchers from the University of Paris Diderot already built one, over 4 years ago (machine translation)!

Using the same principles as the hover board Lexus build, the researchers built a very expensive neodymium magnet track to test the board on. Only difference here is that they didn’t hide the magnets. The hover board itself was machined out of wood, and houses a large sealed metal tray which contains the superconducting bricks.

Pour in some liquid nitrogen through the funnel, and you’re ready to witness some of the quantum properties of superconductors! The board floats a few centimeters above the magnetic rails, and in their tests was able to lift people over 100 kg in weight (hint for most Americans… there are 2.2 pounds to one kilogram).

Continue reading “The French Built the Superconducting Hoverboard 4 Years Before Lexus”

Secrets Of The Lexus Hoverboard Revealed

Auto site [Jalopnik] got some hands-on (or rather feet-on) time with the Lexus hoverboard that was built for an advert for the luxury car brand, and their video reveals a few secrets about how this interesting device works. It is definitely real: the Jalopnik writer got to ride it himself, and described it as “Unbelievably difficult yet at the same time unbelievably cool, both because you’re levitating and because the board is filled with magnets more than 300 degrees below zero“. But a look behind the scenes reveals that it is another tease.

The device looks like it is a real hoverboard, floating several inches above the surface and even traveling over water, a feat that Marty McFly couldn’t do. But, as usual, there is a little more going on than meets the eye. The device is built around superconducting magnets cooled by liquid nitrogen, so it only works for about 10 minutes. After that, you have to refill the device with liquid nitrogen. The surface that the board is floating over also has what the Jalopnik writer describes as having “several hundred thousand dollars worth of magnets built in“. Try this on a non-magnetic surface and you’ll come to a grinding halt. If you watch the video of the hoverboard serenely gliding over the water from another angle, you can see a magnetic track just under the surface. If you run off this track, you’ll end up with wet feet.

Is it a neat hack? Yes. Is it cool? Yes. Is it the future of transportation? No: it is a cool hack put together for a car advert with a big budget. Kudos to Lexus for spending the cash to do it properly, but once again, our dreams of hoverboards are dashed in the cold, hard light of reality. Darn.


A Simple Hoverboard Everyone Can Understand

To be honest, we were wondering when we would see someone try this…

[Ryan Craven] has successfully built a working hovercraft that looks like a skateboard. It floats on two pockets of air generated by four Black and Decker leaf blowers — and by golly, it certainly looks like it works!

Ever since the HUVr hoax earlier this year, [Ryan] has had the goal to make a real, working hoverboard. Hendo may have beaten him to the punch with their $10,000 eddy current inducing halbach array board, but alas, it only works on copper or aluminum floors. [Ryan’s] can be used anywhere a normal skateboard can be. It’s far from sleek, but it’s only just the prototype — though we’re curious to see how far this could actually go.

Which is precisely why he’s shared it over on and is hoping to draw some support and ideas from our wonderful community here.

What do you guys think? Is it worth continuing the pursuit of a hovercraft style hoverboard? Can we shrink the technology enough to make it feasible? It’s come a long way from the classic hover craft using a giant shop vac…

Continue reading “A Simple Hoverboard Everyone Can Understand”

Building A Magnetic Levitating Quadcopter

hover Three days ago on October 21, 2014 it was announced to the world the Back to the Future hoverboard was real. It’s a Kickstarter, of course, and it’s trending towards a $5 Million dollar payday for the creator.  Surprisingly for a project with this much marketing genius, it’s a real, existing device and there’s even a patent. From the patent, we’re able to glean a few details of how this hoverboard/magnetic levitation device works, and in our post on the initial coverage, we said we’d be giving away some goodies to the first person who can clone this magnetic levitation device and put it up on

[jellmeister] just won the prize. It’s somewhat cheating, as he’s had his prototype hoverboard working in July, and demoed a more advanced ‘upside-down quadcopter’ device at the Brighton Mini Maker Faire in September. Good on ‘ya [jelly]. You’re getting a gift card for the hackaday store.

hoverLike the Kickstarter hoverboard, [jelly] is using an array of magnets rotating in a frame above a non-ferrous metal. For the initial test, eight neodymium magnets were arranged in a frame, suspended over 3/4″ aluminum plate, and spun up with a drill. With just this simple test, [jelly] was able to achieve 2kg of lift at 1cm and 1kg of lift at 1 inch of separation. This test also provided some valuable insight on what the magnets do to the aluminum or copper; the 3kg aluminum plate was nearly spinning, meaning if this device were to be used on small plates, counter-rotating pairs of magnetic lifters would need to be used.

The test rig then advanced to two pairs of rotors with standard hobby brushless motors, but stability was a problem; the magnetic rotors provided enough lift, but it would quickly fall over. To solve this problem, [jellmeister] took a standard quadcopter configuration, replaced the props with magnetic rotors, and successfully hovered it above a sheet of aluminum at the Brighton Maker Faire.

Since [jellmeister] has actually built one of these magnetically levitating hoverboards, he has a lot more data about how they work than an embargoed press release. The magnetic rotor hoverboard will work on aluminum as well as copper, but [jell] suspects the Kickstarter hoverboard may be operating right at the edge of its performance, necessitating the more efficient copper half pipe. The thickness of the non-ferrous plate also makes a difference, with better performance found using thicker plates. No, you bojo, hoverboards don’t work on salt water, even if you have pow-ah.

So there ‘ya go. That’s how you build a freakin’ hoverboard. [jellmeister]’s design is a little crude and using a Halbach array for the magnetic rotors should improve efficiency. Using a 3D printed rotor design is a stroke of genius, and we’ll expect a few more quad-magnetic-levitating-things to hit the tip line in short order.

Demos of [jellmeister]’s work below.

Oh. These things need a name. I humbly submit the term ‘Bojo’ to refer to any device that levitates though rotating magnets and eddy currents.

Continue reading “Building A Magnetic Levitating Quadcopter”

The Hoverboard You Can Build At Home

Press embargoes lifted today, heralding the announcement of the world’s first hoverboard. Yes, the hovering skateboard from Back to the Future. It’s called the Hendo hoverboard, it’s apparently real, and you can buy one for $10,000. If that’s too rich for your blood, you can spend $900 for a ‘technology demonstrator’ – a remote-controlled hovering box powered by the same technology.

Of course the world’s first hoverboard is announced to the world as a crowd funding campaign, so before we get to how this thing is supposed to work, we’ll have to do our due diligence. The company behind this campaign, Arx Pax Labs, Inc, exists, as does the founder. All the relevant business registration, biographical information, and experience of the founder and employees of Arx Pax check out to my satisfaction. In fact, at least one employee has work experience with the innards of electric motors. At first glance, the company itself is actually legit.

The campaign is for a BttF-style hoverboard, but this is really only a marketing strategy for Arx Pax; the hoverboards themselves are admittedly loss leaders even at $10,000 – the main goal of this Kickstarter is simply to get media attention to the magnetic levitation technology found in the hoverboard. All of this was carefully orchestrated, with a ‘huge event’ to be held exactly one year from today demonstrating a real, working hoverboard. What’s so special about demoing a hoverboard on October 21, 2015?

next year

I defy anyone to come up with a better marketing campaign than this.

The meat of the story comes from what has until now been a scientific curiosity. Everyone reading this has no doubt seen superconductors levitated off a bed of magnets, and demonstrations of eddy currents are really just something cool you can do with a rare earth magnet and a copper pipe. What [Greg Henderson] and Arx Pax have done is take these phenomena and turned them into a platform for magnetic levitation.

According to the patent, the magnetic levitation system found in the Hendo hoverboard works like this:

  • One or more electric motors spin a series of rotors consisting of an arrangement of strong permanent magnets.
  • The magnets are arranged in a Halbach array that enhances the magnetic field on one side of the array, and cancels it on the other.
  • By placing the rotors over a conductive, non-ferrous surface – a sheet of copper or aluminum, for example – eddy currents are induced in the conductive surface.
  • These eddy currents create a magnetic field that opposes the magnetic field that created it, causing the entire device to levitate.


That’s it. That’s how you create a real, working hoverboard. Arx Pax has also developed a method to control a vehicle equipped with a few of these hover disks; the $900 ‘Whitebox’ technology demonstrator includes a smart phone app as a remote control.

If you’re still sitting in a steaming pile of incredulity concerning this invention, you’re in good company. It’s a fine line between being blinded by brilliance and baffled by bullshit, so we’re leaving this one up to you: build one of these devices, put it up on, and we’ll make it worth your while. We’re giving away some gift cards to the Hackaday store for the first person to build one of these hoverboards, preferably with a cool body kit. The Star Wars landspeeder has already been done, but the snowspeeder hasn’t. Surprise us.

Oculus Rift and Wii Balance Board make Hoverboards a (Virtual) Reality

It’s almost 2015 and still don’t have the futuristic technology promised to us by Back to the Future Part II. Where are the flying cars, Mr. Fusions, or 19 Jaws movies? Most importantly, where are our hoverboards?

[cratesmith] got tired of waiting around and decided to take matters into his own hands. He combined the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset with the Wii Fit Balance Board to create a virtual hoverboard experience. He used the Unity3D engine (a favorite among Rift developers) to program the game engine. It’s a very rough demo right now, but the game comes complete with a simulated town to float around in and of course includes a model DeLorean.

Before you try to play this demo, you should know that it’s not without its faults. The primary problem [cratesmith] has experienced is with simulation sickness. His virtual reality system has no way to track body motion, which means that leaning back and forth on the Wii Fit board does not get translated to the equivalent virtual movement. The game must assume that the player stands straight up at all times, which is not an intuitive way to control something similar to a skateboard. The result is an off-putting experience that can break immersion and lead to a feeling of nausea.

A possible solution to this problem would be to use a camera style motion detector like the Microsoft Kinect. In fact, another Reddit user has recently posted a teaser video of another hoverboard simulator that uses the Oculus Rift, Wii Fit Board, and Kinect. Not much information is available about this second project, but we look forward to seeing updates in the future.

[createsmith] has not published the code for his demo because it’s still in the very early stages, but he has stated that he’s been giving it out to anyone who goes out of their way to ask. The hoverboard is probably the most coveted fictional technology from the 1989 adventure film. We know this because we’ve seen multiple projects over the years that were inspired by the movie.  We’re excited to see it come to fruition in any form.

[via Reddit]