They promised us Hoverboards: A future unrealized

James Wallace

October 27th, 2010

Allow me to tell you a little story. The names have not been changed and the facts are all the same. It begins with a boy who we will call James, whose parents and close friends called Jamie. Jamie, being the imaginative yet gullible young fellow he was, would believe just about anything you told him should it be A) related to movies and B) a little bit on the fantastical side. But could you blame him...after all, he was a dreamer. And not the only one.

Now that you have a little backstory on Jamie, let's take a small leap forward shall we? The year was 1991 and a new kid moves into the neighborhood. A new kid that said he owned a genuine, real life Mattel Hoverboard just like the one from BACK TO THE FUTURE! Just like the one Jamie knew to be real because he saw it incased at Doc Brown's laboratory at Universal Studios! He rode it around only at night and parked it on his roof so that he could enter his house via the chimney (both of which were of course the reasoning behind why he wouldn't or couldn't show it to any of the rest of the young and curious). Not long after he glided into town, all the neighborhood kids saw this newb to be what he obviously was; the neighborhood liar. Every suburb development had one. He was ours.

But not poor Jamie...oh no. It wasn't obvious to this unassuming victim of vision. He should have seen the signs, considering that this particular young gentlemen also made claim that there were GOONIES-style caverns under his house complete with buried treasure and that his Dad drove a dragster to work. I...I mean Jamie...should have picked up on the red flag that the kid was lying based on the single fact that dragsters can't even turn corners and, if that were the case, his dad's work commute would have to be in a straight line. Now that I...I mean Jamie...thinks about it, he probably didn't even have a dad. Bastard.

All this to say, that this little snot nose, booger eater took advantage by sticking his hand up imagination's skirt. But imagination had to have been at least flirting with him, right? She was asking for it without asking for it if you pick up what I'm putting down? If imagination was dressed like BACK TO THE FUTURE 2, then I guess I can't blame him for his taradiddle.

The second film in the most famous of time travelin' trilogies (you almost made it didn't you, BILL AND TED?), 1989's BACK TO THE FUTURE 2 imagined a time ahead in the year 2015. Flying cars, hovering skateboards, self-sizing/auto-drying clothing. In the late '80s/early '90s, to a young boy full of imaginativeness, it didn't seem improbable that the government could and would come up with this stuff. When you're a kid, that's who invents everything after all...the government. And they had a whole 26 years to do it! What else did they have to do? A new disease called AIDS? Ending the Cold War? A debt crisis? All seemed insignificant to a young boy why wanted to skateboard to move without touching the ground and wanted his car to do the same when he got old enough to drive one.

Now, here we are 21 years later. The very week young Martin McFly travels back to the past and then to the future. Not a flying car found on the road. I still have to tie my own shoes and buy my clothes in a size medium. And I most definitely can't glide on a board without touching the ground, over water or otherwise.

So what happened? They promised us Hoverboards, dammit. What do we have to show for it in 2010, 5 years away from the expected delivery date? Are we even close?

Find out after the break!

The Hoverboard. It's a simple piece of technology, essentially a skateboard with no wheels able to hover and move above the ground, due largely to electromagnetism. Oh, and it has one minor defect; it doesn't work on water...without power. But you knew that already, didn't you Bojo?

Not so simple I guess, as one of the closest things we have to a working one is a slightly more crude design by The Gadget Show's Jason Bradbury. Bradbury built his board out of literal wood and a Ryobi leaf blower, using air propulsion instead of magnets to shred atmosphere. The good news is, you could make one of these yourself in the comforts of your own garage if you were a bit handy, had the know how, and the supplies from your local hardware store. The bad news is, I don't think this would help you with a clean getaway from future Biff and his goons. This thing is bulkier than the Bulldog and doesn't seem to let you get much air on the air.

But wait...what's this? One that works on water! It might as well be a tiny UFO and it may not support the weight of a person but, hey, at least this one defies both liquid and gravity. And it has a little hot pink coloring to it to boot!

Moving right along from leaf blower to lawn mower, the Abortech Air Board Hovercraft uses bottomside vacuum technology to levitate 8-inches off the ground with speeds upwards of 20 mph! Now that's more like it, right? Wrong. This behemoth looks to be a bit "heavy," runs on 1.3 gallons of fuel an hour, costs $15,000, and looks like a giant red iRobot vacuum cleaner with a handle. You'd look less like Marty McFly and more like George McFly mowing the lawn on a Sunday afternoon. Oh, and they too don't work on water though I imagine would make a great life raft if you were lost at sea.

Then there's a company called Future Horizons Advanced Technology, who have everything from flying saucers to jetpacks to time travel on their product line. Time travel? Here I am discussing Hoverboard technology and these guys have already invented time travel without the need of a Flux Compacitor or a DeLorean! And they have not one but twelve different methods for sale! Too bad the $590 Hyper Dimensional Resonator is already sold out...I sure was hoping to get one in my stocking come this Christmas. Maybe if I had one I could travel back in time to before they were sold out and buy one. As a side note, for a company who offers such futuristic technology, you think their website wouldn't look like it was built in the 1990s with Geocities.

I digress. Through FHAT (claimed builders of Hoverboard technology since 1997), for the low, low price of $50 you can purchase their easy-to-follow plans on how to build your own DIY Hoverboard just under $500. Their design declares to be capable of lifting a "200+lb rider 1 inch above the ground" with a "6 horsepower 4-stroke gasoline engine spins a multi bladed propeller to force air under the craft" by way of a "single vertical shaft lawnmover engine." It is even able to operate on a number of terrains, including ice as seen in the photo below. And ice is like a form of water, right?

Unfortunately there is no video to be found of this thing in action so its validity is about as concealed as Eric Stoltz's performance as McFly (though they do have video of what looks to be an older, bigger design). But, if it does in fact work - with its size, design, and neon colored flare - I'd say it would probably the closest thing we have to a functional Mattel Hoverboard right now.

Well, unless you're considering this one from French artist Nils Guadagnin, which is McFly's Mattel to a T, complete with the exact board design, hot pink paint job and radical decals! Great Scott, it even uses an electromagnetic system to levitate the board, along with a laser system to stabilize it! Unfortunately, more for the purpose to float there and look pretty than to actually move from point A to point B. Now if someone could just use the technology from above and the design from below, the Hoverboard would be a bet surer than the Cubbies in the World Series.

Maybe this kid, who reminds me of that young Jamie I spoke of earlier, could help.

So, after reviewing some of the closest prototypes we have to what director Robert Zemeckis, screenwriter Bob Gale, and producer Steven Spielberg imagined to be readily available at sporting goods stores everywhere in their 2015, it looks like we may have to wait just a little while longer.

As HoverTech R&D's Bill Butler explains, "Floating without wind and noise isn't the hard part. There are forms of levitation such as Maglev trains that do this quite well— it's making them work without a track that gets tricky." He adds "To create levitation without moving mass requires a force that works at a distance. The two most common forces that work at a distance are magnetism and electrodynamic (or electrostatic) force. Gravity also represents a force at a distance, but is not as well understood. The reason it is so difficult to float without moving mass is because most surfaces do not interact magnetically or electrodynamically."

So, for now, our collective dreams of grinding the ether will have to be put on hold, as the child-like wonderment inside me dies a little bit more and more every day. And until that day comes, I know one little boy turned grown-up that will keep dreaming of a better tomorrow. A tomorrow with flying DeLoreans, Mattel Hoverboards, JAWS 19 in holovision, the Black & Decker Hydrator, self-lacing Nike Air 2015 Kicks, and video conferencing (Oh wait, we have that one already. Yay for us.) Because trying to imagine a future without those mean, I just don't think I can take that kind of rejection.

And hey, look on the bright side, at least it seems we're close to having one piece of tech from BTTF: PART II.

Want your own Hoverboard prop so you can at least pretend? Check out for a highly-accurate reproduction of Mr. McFly's future toy today!

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  • Tracy Gershon

    This made me laugh so hard. I love the idea of riding a hoverboard to class or work. Can you imagine bike racks being nonexistant and there being hoverboard parking on campus? It would create so much space for expansions. We could eliminate parking spots and just make a hoverboard rack.

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  • Brian Kelley

    ::slow clap:: Great work, James.

  • JamesWallace

    Thank you, Brian. My mom is very proud.

    This may be my masterpiece. I may have to retire from writing as I’m not sure I can ever top this.

  • JamesWallace

    We would have so much more room for activities! :)

  • Surfmonkey7


  • Nickey157

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