Hoverboards, according to Back to The Future, are just a year away, and one company claims they can deliver in the nick of time. However, it remains to be seen if this promise has much more substance than the various hoaxes that have come out since the film.
Producing a hoverboard that would work over all (solid) surfaces and fly meters off the ground would take a technological breakthrough far beyond anything we are likely to manage soon. More realistic would be a sort of solo version of a maglev train. However, the excitement of riding up and down the same track would probably pale quickly.
The latest claim falls somewhere in between. Rather than only being able to hover over a repulsive magnet, the company Arx Pax, sometimes referring to themselves as Hendo, claim their board will carry a human over any conductor that is not ferromagnetic – that is not containing iron, nickel or cobalt.
Arx Pax say that the hoverboard will be just the beginning, a way of mobilizing the capacity of technology that will eventually embrace flying cars and earthquake-proof buildings. They've certainly convinced some people, with their Kickstarter campaign more than half-funded.
In theory the idea is possible. Under Lenz's Law, a changing electric current will generate a counterbalancing current in nearby conducting materials, and each will produce a magnetic field that will repel the other. It's hard to make something relying on magnetic fields stable, but it does seem Arx Pax have gone a long way in that direction.
The big challenge, however, is creating something that can produce enough power to support a human, and do it for long enough on small batteries to give a worthwhile experience. Battery technology is improving to meet the needs of electric cars, but Arx Pax don't seem to be offering a lot of evidence that they've got what it takes to turn their dream, and Kickstarter supporters' money, into a reality that lasts more than a few minutes.
Even if the power issue can be resolved, don't expect a lot of the stunts Michael J. Fox pulled off in the film – if there were criminal penalties for breaking the laws of physics, the filmmakers would be in more trouble than their villainous gang.