For those of us who were alive in the ’80s (especially as children), we couldn’t wait for the day where we could get our hands—or more precisely, our feet—on a hoverboard from Back to the Future II and III. As a kid then, with my BMX bike and inline skates, I was one of those kids dreaming of the day when I could have a hoverboard of my own (except it won’t be pink like in the movie). Unfortunately, 2015 (the year where Doc and Marty traveled to that featured the said hoverboard) has come and gone and we have yet to see hoverboards hovering our streets—not to mention flying cars! Sci-fi movies from the ’80s, why have you lied to us?!
Hoverboards are coming, though…
…of sorts. In 2014, hoverboards again became a topic of discussion on the Internet when a video was uploaded from a company called HUVr that claims to have built an actual hoverboard. The give more credibility to the video, notable people such as skateboard legend, Tony Hawk and Christopher Lloyd, who played Doc Brown in the Back to the Future movies were featured on the video. Unfortunately for the makers of the clip, eagle-eyed viewer noticed some inconsistencies. Ultimately, the video was traced to comedy site Funny or Die, which led to Lloyd apologizing for the fooling everyone.
That same year, a Kickstarter campaign popped up asking to back their hoverboard product. The Hendo hoverboard is pegged by the company, Arx Pax, as the “World’s first REAL hoverboard.” The Hendo hoverboard uses magnets to lift the board over the surface. This is similar to how maglev trains work. If you’re familiar with the tech, you might already realize the downside to the Hendo board. You need a special surface for the Hendo board to work. In this case, the Hendo needs a copper surface for it to hover.
Then there’s Lexus (yes, that Lexus). In 2015, Lexus announced that it had developed a levitating hoverboard as part of their “Amazing in Motion” series. In the video, the Slide, as it was called, is shown hovering over a skate park as skaters familiarize themselves with the board. The video even showed the Slide hovering over water just like in the Back to the Future movies. The hoverboard itself is shown as literally smoking due to the nitrogen-cooled superconductors that were used to make the board hover.
Unfortunately, just like most marketing these days, the company took a few liberties with the truth. Don’t get me wrong, the Slide does work… but not on every surface as shown in the video. The “skate park” that was shown was actually made out of a special metallic surface (that would repel the board) and not made out of concrete. So, if you want to use the Slide, you’d have to build your own skate park with a metallic surface instead of concrete.
While actual hoverboards are still in our future, there are “boards” that are being marketed as hoverboards.
“I dub thee SBB”
Okay. Let’s get this out of the way before anything else. No matter what people say or how they are marketed, they aren’t “hoverboards!” They don’t “hover” nor are they “boards.” (Okay, I may have exaggerated about the not being boards part.)
Yes, I’m being pedantic, but it’s true. These aren’t hoverboards and as such, I refuse to use the term when talking about them. Thus, I shall call them self-balancing boards or SBBs, for short. In the latest fad that has given us the Rollerblades, the bi-wheeled, self-balancing boards have been popping up around the Metro and have been on kids’ top wishlist this past holiday season.
But what are they really? These SBBs are nothing more than lazy man’s—or in this case, kids’—skateboard. No need to use your legs and feet to push yourself to gain momentum to travel from point A to point B, all you need to do is stand on the board, tip your feet forward, and away you go. Let the electric motor do the work while you look like a douche.
Now that might seem a bit harsh—or maybe I sound like I’m jealous of the people I see (again, mainly kids) roam around in their “lazy skates”—but traveling at high speed on sidewalks, or worse, inside malls is dangerous. No matter how much you teach your kids to be careful using these things, kids will still be kids.
The Segway connection
For those who keep in touch with technology news since the early 2000s, you might actually notice something eerily familiar with these SBBs. Except for the hand grip, these SBBs are knockoffs of the Segway that was supposed to revolutionize the way we travel. The self-balancing Segway uses your body to move like today’s SBBs. Unfortunately, for the Segway, its high price tag really hasn’t set the world on fire.
Unlike the Segway, today’s SBBs are relatively cheap. Almost everyone can afford to buy them and a lot of people have. However, there’s a caveat to having affordable SBBs.
SBBs are hot…
…and by hot, I mean literally hot; like capable of exploding hot. There have been reports—mainly in the U.S.—where SBBs have burst into flames due to being left overnight charging the battery. The culprit is suspected to be sensors used to detect when the battery fully charged. It really isn’t much the faulty sensor as the lack of quality control these no-name brands have in building their SBBs. This lack of quality control on these devices is similar to that of USB Type-C cables which have been known to break devices because makers don’t follow the required specs. But I digress. I don’t think this is the way these SBB companies want to set the world on fire.
More than fun and games
Whether we’re talking about hoverboards that hover or hoverboards that don’t, both are still technological marvels of their own. While we are still quite a ways from actually having hoverboards that hover on any surface, it’s good to know that there people working on it to make them a reality—no matter how expensive they can get. Also, think about it, these hover technologies could be used to develop other hover vehicles such as the flying car. Goodbye road traffic, hello, bumper to bumper air cars!
At the other end of the scale, while I don’t consider SBBs as hoverboards, they have made the self-balancing technology available to the masses. Unfortunately, there’s still more work when it comes to having them, well… not explode.