It’s not often admitted, but Back to the Future Part II got a lot of things right about the technology of the ‘future’. The classic film starring Michael J Fox as Marty McFly, released in 1989, was set partly in the year 2015, and made a number of interesting predictions at how technology would have advanced aspects of life in the 21st century.
Yes, there are the technological advances that we aren’t anywhere near (flying cars), the ones that seem a little superfluous (instant hydrating pizza) and the fashion statements we are very glad never came to pass (inside-out pockets/double tie). But the actually successfully images some parts of life that we take for granted today.
Video calls, for example, are presented in the film as being commonplace. The games consoles in the film are controller-free, akin to the Xbox Kinect and the Nintendo Wii. Even the use of fingerprint scanning is common – as we have seen in recent generations of smartphone. And there are plenty of other examples where if the filmmakers didn’t quite capture the truth of the ‘future’ they were certainly along the right lines.
But if there was one aspect of Part II that really captured public imagination, it was the concept of the hoverboard. These flying skateboards were utilised in many of the major moments in the film, and it left many wondering when they would get to experience a hoverboard for real. But 2015 has come and passed, and the traditional wheeled skateboard has not seen any levitation upgrades. So why is it that real hoverboards don’t exist yet?
What about those devices we call hoverboards?
In a certain sense of the word, hoverboards do exist. The self-balancing scooter is often referred to its somewhat catchier name, and while they do not hover, they certainly managed to catch on and have been growing in popularity as both a toy and a mode of personal transportation. But these ‘hoverboards’ merely used the name for the publicity.
The devices were released in 2013 and rather took advantage of the fact that no real hoverboards had been invented, and 2015 was only around the corner. Capitalising on the interest in them, these little scooters have become commonplace. Unfortunately for the good name of said hoverboard, fake batteries and dodgy imported parts did no favours for their reputation, with many a safety hazard incurred including catching fire. However, reputable sellers are out there – and you can ensure yours is the real deal with this here handy safety guide. But these really aren’t what Back to the Future fans were hoping for. So we need to look elsewhere for devices that might bring us closer to the real thing.
It should be noted that while hoverboards are an interesting concept that impressed cinemagoers in the 1980s, that doesn’t necessarily mean that we have a right to expect them to exist. The concept looks cool and might even seem relatively simple on film, but when the troublesome issue of the actual scientific and practical reality of bringing a hoverboard to life come in, it really is an awful lot of effort.
Perhaps we should be thankful then that, even if they haven’t quite succeeded in bringing them to the mainstream market, a number of people have managed to create devices that approximate the hoverboard.
One memorable attempt is the Lexus Slide. It certainly looks the part – a sleek design that’s far more stylish than anything seen in the film (although we still love Griff Tannen’s Pit Bull Hoverboard). And even more impressively, it can be used like a real hoverboard.
Of course, this has to be qualified. The Lexus Slide won’t work everywhere – the board hovers thanks to powerful magnets. And the impressive tricks performed in the board’s official video, are accomplished in a purpose-built park with magnetic tracks. A number of other styles of hoverboard have been attempted, including one that was designed in part by skateboarding legend Tony Hawk. But once again, it requires magnets to work.
The only other way to create a hoverboard is to have some sort of propulsion system, which necessarily comes with drawbacks. The Omni and the Flyboard Air are examples leading the way in this area. But of course, they aren’t really skateboards – they are more like drones that you can stand on. They are also monumentally noisy, which gets old pretty quickly.
So it really doesn’t seem like we will be getting hoverboards any time soon. The fact is that real hoverboards don’t exist yet because they are a) impractical and b) absurdly expensive to build. The fact is that if you want a skateboarding experience without wheels – suck it up and ride a skateboard; you can’t even see the wheels when you are riding one, so what’s the problem?
And if you want a cool piece of technology at a price that doesn’t sound the budget for a planned mission to Mars, pick up a hoverboard.