Today’s the date Doc and Marty McFly travelled to in Back to the Future II and at least one of their predictions came true. Sit back and let Lexus blow your mind with its futuristic hoverboard design.
Ever since Back to the Future II came out, it’s been somewhat of a futuristic fantasy to imagine everyone zipping around on hoverboards to travel between destinations. Thanks to Lexus, the possibility of living out our Marty McFly dreams could one day be a reality.
On August 4, Lexus unveiled footage of pro-skateboarder Ross McGouran testing the waters of the Lexus Hoverboard for the first time. The dynamic design swiftly glides above the surface and even lets you skate over water. The board is crafted from bamboo, carbon fiber, liquid nitrogen-cooled superconductors and permanent magnets, and clouds of vapor that seem to arrange in a beautifully atmospheric manner.
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The board levitates courtesy of the superconductors (made from the compound Yttrium barium copper oxide). Unfortunately superconductors won’t function at room temperature, which explains the clouds of vapor – liquid nitrogen cools the board to a frosty -181 degrees Celsius (-294 degrees Fahrenheit). Once this cool state has been achieved, the superconductors can store a magnetic field.
Dietmar Berger, a magnetic levitation engineer who worked on the project, explains in a video that the magnetic track has three poles: a north, a south, and another north. This isn’t something that can be observed with the naked eye, but if you place a coin in your hand and hover over the track, you’ll be able to feel the invisible force.
Berger further clarifies that as long as the superconductor material is held at a certain distance above the track and cooled with liquid nitrogen, this stores the magnetic field, enabling the board to levitate as long as it’s cooled. He said it was a fascinating project, and the researchers hope to inspire others. “This project may show them nothing is impossible,” he says.
Interestingly, the magnetic forces of the board are a built-in feature of the superconductors which requires no electronic control or power consumption for the hoverboard to work. However, the Hoverboard can only be used in Lexus’ skatepark located in Spain for now since it has 200 meters of magnetic track laid beneath the park.
As exemplified in McGouran’s attempt to ride the hoverboard, it’s challenging for the boarder to maintain balance. The board proves to be extremely stable when the weight is centered, but it’s wobbly around its long axis. If Lexus put more magnets in the skatepark’s track it would make the experience much more stable, enabling less-experienced riders to give it a whirl, but it probably wouldn’t be as exciting.
After experiencing the Lexus hoverboard, McGouran told WIRED, “I’ve spent 20 years skateboarding, but without friction it feels like I’ve had to learn a whole new skill, particularly in the stance and balance you need to ride the hoverboard.” If a pro-skateboarder found the hoverboarding experience to be difficult, there doesn’t seem to be much hope for those of us who have proven to be less graceful at times.
Before you start imagining hoverboard skateparks popping up everywhere spawning futuristic skater bros, Oliver de Haas, an expert in thermal insulating and cooling who collaborated with researchers on the hoverboard project, says the team called the experiment a “one-off.” In an interview with WIRED.co.uk, he said there aren’t any further plans to improve the board, but he did hint at the possibility future surprises from Lexus. If they don’t continue developing the hoverboard, our fingers are crossed for jetpacks.