Greg Henderson knows a thing or two about skepticism. The co-founder and CEO of the Silicon Valley think tank Arx Pax approached six different patent firms before finding one willing to get onboard with his unusual idea. He later flew to the U.S. Patent Office in Alexandria, Virginia just to prove his application wasn't a practical joke. As Henderson explains, "When you call up a supplier or a machine shop and you tell them you're working on a hoverboard, they just laugh and hang up on you."
But Henderson's futuristic technology isn't an elaborate prank like the one Funny Or Die pulled last year. In fact: Meet Hendo, the world's first hoverboard.
As the video above proves, Arx Pax's Hendo is a working hoverboard prototype. The company's newly launched Kickstarter campaign hopes to raise $250,000 to turn it into a fully realized product. For those who grew up mesmerized by Back To The Future II, the chance to try out hover technology is reason enough to contribute.
250 backers will take a five-minute ride on the hoverboard in exchange for a $100 pledge. 25 backers willing to contribute $1,000 will earn an hour-long riding lesson from Hendo's team. And 10 backers will own one of the world's first hoverboards in exchange for $10,000. The prototypes will be handed out at Hendo's Hover Event on October 21, 2015—the date Marty McFly travels to in Back To The Future II. And Arx Pax is hoping to get star Michael J. Fox involved by auctioning off the first hoverboard and donating the proceeds to his Parkinson's Research Foundation.
But just how did a small Silicon Valley company create a working hoverboard? According to Henderson, it took a combination of "intuition and Wikipedia." An architect by trade, Henderson first began thinking about hover technology while brainstorming better ways to protect homes from earthquakes and floods. One option is to use liquid or gas as a "buffer medium" to protect buildings from seismic shifts. But Henderson realized there might be an even better buffer: an electromagnetic field.
"If you can hover a 15,000 kilogram train, why not a house?" Henderson asks. He set about assembling a 19-person team of physicists, engineers, and graphic designers to figure out a way to hover stationary objects with dynamic payloads. The key to making something hover is to have a force pushing up equal to the downward pull of gravity. Using Lenz's Law, Arx Pax figured out how to use magnetic field architecture (MFA) to transmit electromagnetic energy incredibly efficiently. The Hendo hoverboard combines magnetic fields to arrange magnetic flux in a certain direction. As of now, the board needs to be placed over a conductive, non-ferrous surface (i.e. copper or aluminum) in order to hover. But part of the goal of the Kickstarter campaign is to encourage co-creation that can improve upon the limitations of this new technology.
For $299, Kickstarter backers will receive a White Box Developer Kit that includes a hover engine and a conductive surface. The kit—which Henderson calls his favorite Kickstarter perk—allows backers to experiment with hover technology in their own homes. It will also encourage innovators to learn about and improve upon Hendo's design. Henderson hopes to one day be able to reduce or eliminate the need for a conductive surface on which to operate.
In addition to recreational uses or amusement park rides ("Hoverland!" Henderson suggests gleefully), the technology has plenty of practical applications—from protecting hospitals in areas with earthquakes to streamlining factory automation. Hover technology could also drastically increase the efficiency and sustainability of mass transportation. By treating carpool lanes with conductive surfaces, hover vehicles could offer "the freedom of a car and the efficiency of a train." The whimsical pop culture appeal of the hoverboard is just a starting place for future hover innovations.
"We're calling all inventors," Henderson emphasizes. "We're hoping for folks to start daring to wonder."