by Gene Turnbow, station manager

A small company called Arx Pax in Los Gatos, California has a working hoverboard called the Hendo, which you can actually buy. That’s the good news. It’s not exactly like the ones we saw Marty McFly riding in Back to the Future II, but it works. It can carry up to 300 pounds, and will float you about an inch in the air. Here’s the bad news:  the board runs out of battery in about seven minutes and costs $10,000. Nor is it silent – it makes a noise like electric fingernails on an electric chalkboard when it’s in use, due to its whirling magnetic field generators. Still, it does actually work, as you can see in the inset video. Unlike an (unfortunately) increasing number of Kickstarter technology pitches, this one actually works.

The Hendo is named after its inventor, Greg Henderson. It has to have a copper-clad metal floor to work against, because it uses powerful magnets to generate an inductive counter-field in the floor. The four load-bearing magnets are literally creating an opposing magnetic field in the floor to push against. It uses the same technology that levitates maglev trains, so it will only levitate over non-ferrous metals like copper or aluminum (but not nickel or iron).

What makes the Hendo such an important advance in magnetic levitation technology is that for the first time, a magnetically levitated object can levitate against a passive surface. A maglev train requires a rail or travel bed loaded with electronics and power conduits to make it work. Henderson’s device will work on a simple metal plate. This makes it less than one-sixth the cost to implement than previous technologies. The Hendo can also individually control its magnetic fields and doesn’t need a rail to move in a controlled direction. There is an engineer’s kit being sold by Arx Pax that runs completely silently, and can lift about 40 pounds. There’s a certain amount of frustration from the scientific community because they haven’t actually worked out all the mathematical equations. They can demonstrate that it works, but the math behind why it works means they still have some work to do.

The board itself is a fun curiosity, but it’s primarily meant to draw attention to the other potential uses of the technology. As an architect, Henderson imagines that such devices could be used to completely isolate buildings from earthquakes. There are applications in aerospace as well. Most of the payload of an aircraft is its fuel, and a plane uses most of its fuel simply taking off from the runway. Imagine what the fuel requirements would be if a plane had no rolling resistance at all.

Using this technology could have a dramatic impact on all sorts of energy-intensive activities that must currently overcome rolling resistance, and in our civilization that’s a lot of possible application. To give you an idea, a helicopter requires about 160 watts per kilogram it lifts, but the Arx Pax maglev technology needs only about 40 watts. Of course, that helicopter can also lift that payload into the sky, but for most loads, one wouldn’t need to do that. The ramifications of this invention are profound. It could quite literally change the world.

If there’s a Kickstarter worth participating in, this is it.

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