The bad news: The board, which is called the Hendo, will cost $10,000 and the battery only lasts 7 minutes.
Despite the hefty price tag, Arx Pax, the Los Gatos, Calif., startup behind the board, let me take it for a ride Monday afternoon. I wasn’t immediately steady enough to jerk the board in different directions, but I kept my balance as it slowly spun in a circle while I bounced between two of Arx Pax’s engineers. The board was large, almost like a doublewide snowboard. It felt as if I was standing on a giant air hockey puck hovering three quarters of an inch above the ground.
Arx Pax doesn’t actually care much about giving you a totally rad new way to get from point A to B. Its real focus is a square white box that it is also offering up as a part of the $250,000 Kickstarter campaign it launched today. It’s a developer kit that’s meant to help anyone add hovering capabilities to anything they want, from a priceless work of art in a museum at risk for earthquakes to a robot moving parcels across a warehouse floor.
The big catch is that the Hendo can only hover over some types of metal. At the Arx Pax office, we hovered over a floor and half pipe covered in copper. That’s because the board generates a magnetic field. When there is a sheet of metal underneath, it is powerful enough to push the board upward (it’s the same technology as a Maglev train). The developer kit can support up to 40 pounds. The Hendo board can support up to 300 pounds, with support for 500 pounds planned for the future. It only dipped for a fraction of a second when I hopped on.
Arx Pax’s founders, husband and wife team Greg and Jill Henderson, aren’t shy about the aspirations they have for the technology; they want to see everything from flying cars to space elevators made with it. When you speak with them, it’s clear that they generally live by that kind of ambition. Jill used to work in communications, while Greg was an architect. Jill described him sitting at home at their table with Wikipedia open, grappling over how to make his dream of levitation possible.
“It’s the advantage of showing up without everyone else’s preconceived scientific notions,” Greg said. “We don’t have the proofs written out. A lot of scientists find that offensive. When we get this technology out into the hands of everyone else, that’s something I hope we can catch up on.”
Arx Pax will refine the board over the next year to make it smaller and more stylish. It emits a noise right now that sounds like a cross between a fan, screaming and nails on a chalkboard, but within the next few months the startup expects to have it be completely silent (the developer kit is already totally silent). The team will also make it possible to step onto the board before it starts hovering. I witnessed a prototype called “Manta Ray” jump up from the ground and begin hovering without the lift the board needed to start.
It’s possible to make the board hover higher, but one engineer explained that to double the hover height to 1.5 inches it would eat up about four times as much energy. Only certain applications would call for that kind of power consumption.
So now that we’ve solved hoverboards, where are those flying cars from Back to the Future?