Lexus has finally revealed what its new hoverboard looks like to ride, releasing a new video today of pro-skateboarders testing it out in a specially made skate park in Spain. And watching these guys stumble and fall after performing even the most basic tricks suggests that this thing is equal parts awesome and frustrating to get around on.
But of course it would be - it involves balancing yourself on a complex combination of magnets and superconductors, which have been cooled down to -180°C via all that liquid nitrogen you can see spilling out the sides. And riding troubles aren’t even the most disappointing thing about this reveal.
That skatepark might look fairly normal, but it’s actually all made of wood, which covers up an embedded magnetic layer - that cost several hundred thousand dollars - beneath. Which means even if you could get your hands on one of these beauties, you’re only going to be able to use it where Lexus has specifically built the infrastructure for it. And you’d better be prepared to stop every 10-20 minutes to top off your liquid nitrogen supply.
The other major disappointment? By all accounts, it looks like Lexus’s new hoverboard was just a classic publicity stunt to get us all interested in their cars again. The luxury car company didn’t even actually make the hoverboard itself - its advertising agency got in contact with a group of scientists working on maglev technology in Hamburg, Germany, and they put together this single prototype for use in the commercial.
As Robb Holland reports for Jalopnik, this is probably the most expensive vehicle that Lexus is producing right now, so don’t expect them to announce an even better “version 2” any time soon. This is all we’re getting; we’re talking about Lexus again, it’s done its job, as Sam Sheffer points out at The Verge:
"While it was fun, it certainly wasn’t the hoverboarding experience depicted in Back to the Future. And this future doesn’t even exist, really, considering that the board is just a promotional tool for Lexus’ cars. Even if you can get past the limitations (hope you’ve got a liquid nitrogen tank handy!), it doesn’t really matter, since Lexus won’t sell you one of these things. What we got is movie magic - well, ad magic, in this case.”
But that’s not to say that the science behind it isn’t completely awesome, and maybe someone else will take the ideas behind it and run with them to make something more marketable.
Unlike the Hendo hoverboard, which relies on the repelling interaction between the electromagenets that are built into the board and the copper floor it needs to function, the Lexus hoverboard uses superconductors made from ceramic tiles, which must be cooled to at least -180°C before they’ll react with the magnetic flooring and levitate up to 4 cm in the air. "Once the board reaches the critical temperature, the superconductors interact with the magnets in such a way that they get ‘trapped' within the magnetic field (known as flux pinning in the science world),” says Sheffer.
And it sure does feel great when you’re gliding along on it, according to those lucky enough to get a trial run (the jumps and grinds are where the majority of the spills seem to come from). Holland waxes lyrical about the experience over at Jalopnik:
"In day-to-day life you don’t stop to realise that everything you do requires a certain level of friction and the resulting feedback that brings. With the hoverboard, all of that goes away and for a brief moment you feel nothing.
I wish I could explain it better than that, but the feeling is so unique that I have nothing else I can compare it to. The closest feeling that comes to it is ice skating, but even that’s like comparing the finest silk to 300 grit sandpaper.”
Sigh. Maybe one day we'll all get a chance to know what that feels like. In the meantime, check out the 'behind-the-scenes' video below from Lexus, as they explain the physics underlying the invention. We might not have gotten an actual, marketable hoverboard out of this whole experience, but at least we got a great deal of awesome science to keep us going: