Ready to skateboard on a cushion of air?
Ready to skateboard on a cushion of air? Arx Pax engineer Shauna Moran demonstrates riding a Hendo Hoverboard. Skateboarding is going airborne this fall with the launch of the first real commercially marketed hoverboard which uses magnetics to float about an inch off the ground (AP photos)
Ready to skateboard on a cushion of air?
Lexile: 1130L

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The more your knees quiver, the more the 90-pound board you're perched on, floating above a pillow of air, seems about to shoot out from under your feet. The sound of the high-pitched engine bounces of the sheet of copper as you swivel and glide your way a few feet forward.

This is hoverboarding.

Skateboarding is going airborne this fall with the launch of the first real commercially marketed hoverboard, which uses magnetics to float about an inch off the ground. The creators believe their technology will someday be used to transport large containers or hold buildings above earthquakes as the ground shakes below. But for now, it's all about fun, as demonstrated in a recent practice session.

"You can very much tell that it's frictionless so you just smoothly move along. And it's odd because you can move in all directions," said engineer Kyle O'Neil, seated on a copper ramp where they test their products while wearing helmets and safety lenses.

But there are some catches. The Hendo currently only works for about 15 minutes before it needs recharging and can only operate over metal surfaces. And it's expensive, $10,000.

Greg and Jill Henderson, co-founders of the firm Arx Pax, which developed the Hendo Hoverboard, envision much more.

Sketches of hoverboard parks where people could rent boards and ride up and down ramps, much like skateboard parks, are already pinned to the walls.

"This is not the end, this is just the beginning of where this technology can go," said Greg Henderson, sitting on a sofa in their makeshift labs in the Silicon Valley enclave of Los Gatos. He's definitely thinking big.

"The wheel has served us very, very well, and we're not taking the wheel head on. But there are certain places where this may be more appropriate than the wheel," he says.

Here's how it works: four dinner plate-sized hover engines on the bottom of the board create a magnetic field that induces a secondary magnetic field in a conductive surface. In this case it's copper, although aluminum even under concrete works as well. Magnetic levitation trains, currently operating in Asia, work on similar principles.

Henderson said the board is the most efficient way of communicating what the technology can do.

"When you discover that you can levitate a dynamic load in a stationary position, can you think of anything more exciting than a hoverboard?"

Hoverboards captured public interest in the "Back to the Future" trilogy. Character Marty McFly hopped on one to escape attackers, banking against bushes and petering out over a lake in one scene. There have been some real attempts, and some hoaxes, since then.

The current prototype, designed in part by surfboard shaper Bob Pearson, is broader and wider than a typical skateboard, and fairly slow.

But Henderson is delighted with what they've done so far.

"Last month," he said, "the Wikipedia entry for hoverboard said this was a fictional device.

"It doesn't say that anymore."

Critical thinking challenge: Why cant the Hendo work on non-metal surfaces?

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  • TaylorSeifert-Ste
    11/18/2014 - 09:05 a.m.

    This is really cool but I don't think it is going to go anywhere until the cost lowers. Also, regular skateboards with wheels are special because you can actually do tricks with them. The hover board seems to put a limit your motions and only allow you to go all directions but not upside down or anything like that.

  • conner.mills50
    11/18/2014 - 11:03 a.m.

    The hover board should cost less and use a larger magnetic field so the rider could go higher. I am concerned, however, that using a ramp which has an angle of even an inch might make the board's tip hit causing injury to the rider or the board. The solution is a larger magnetic field for the safety of the rider and the board.

  • carsen.basso48
    11/18/2014 - 11:06 a.m.

    Hover boards are kind of like skateboards, but hover boards are scarier because, they are only like 2 inches from the ground and they float so you couldn't really do any jumps or go down ramps like a traditional skateboard. What you could do is get one and just like ride around on it and make your own jumps that are made out of wood that have a wood lip and landing. I think it would be really cool to ride on one.

  • RM00charlie
    11/18/2014 - 01:03 p.m.

    it cant move over non magnetic surfaces because it uses magnetic technology to moves around the ground smoothly. if the isn't metal underneath the board wont work

  • tw2001marvel
    11/18/2014 - 01:04 p.m.

    The Hendo cannot work on non-metal surfaces because it relies on magnets to float an inch off the ground. Because of that, when the Hendo moves over a non-metal surface, it may drop from floating an inch off the ground because the magnetics will have nothing to go against. However it is nice to see how technology progress as each year go by showing us how far we've come.

  • 3OWenG
    11/18/2014 - 01:09 p.m.

    This hover board could be the next big transportaion upgrade. Place like mountains or deserts where it's hard to drive with wheels could be easily accessed with a hover board. You could even use it to go across the ocean without being caught in giant waves. This could revolutionize modern transportaion and in a few years hover devices may be more popular than boats, skateboards, planes or even cars.

  • ratiaira
    11/18/2014 - 01:59 p.m.

    omg that's so cool i would love that i like skateboarding and I'm a girl my brother also likes skateboarding as much as i do its awesome everybody likes it

  • GMauricio-Sti
    11/18/2014 - 02:38 p.m.

    The future is here we can float now. I think people this going to use this will be the skateboarders. But it is really expansive it cost 10,000 dollars. But think in the future it going to be more then just centimeters of the floor. But for now I think its a good starts.

  • 1NolanG
    11/18/2014 - 06:05 p.m.

    Why can't the Hendo work on non-metal surfaces?
    The Hendo requires a magnetic surface to push off of to stay afloat. Although even metal under a sidewalk works, not all sidewalks are a guarantee for a metal base underneath. You do need a metal though, and not just a slightly magnetic rock. Because that would most likely require much more energy to stay off of the ground. Magnetic trains use technology similar to this and go at very high speeds. Using magnets as replacements for wheels may turn into an actually thing. With that, there would most likely by a lot of metal put in under roads sidewalks to support this new technology. Although off-road journeys are likely to remain a wheel's job.

  • 9RyanS
    11/18/2014 - 06:27 p.m.

    Critical thinking challenge response
    Date: November 18th, 2014
    Date accessed: November 18th, 2014
    Response type: Critical thinking challenge response
    Article title: Ready to skateboard on a cushion of air?
    Critical thinking question: Why cant the Hendo work on non-metal surfaces?

    The reason why the Hendo Hoverboard cant float on non-metal surfaces is because it used magnetics which only works on metal and the board is designed for metal surfaces only. The magnetics are designed to only work on metal surfaces. This all makes sense if you think about it.

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