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Car companies make cars. Cars are typically 4 wheeled metal cages that feature things like engines and windows and maybe a pedal or two. Every now and then, car companies make something that isn’t a car. Lexus has gone out and made something completely unlike any car, or unlike any other THING on the planet for that matter, and that’s very important for the future of vehicles. Today, we look at the incredible piece of technology that is the Lexus hoverboard, and why this floating piece of magic is about more than just some sweet tricks.

To start, the technology that makes the hoverboard work isn’t some bit of Tony Hawk meets Harry Potter wizardry (although even with magic, you can’t beat the birdman). The concept behind this magic is one that has been in development and use for over 100 years. For those of you wanting to believe the hoverboard, known as SLIDE, is made of magic, stop reading now. Technological spoilers are ahead.

The SLIDE works on the same concept as some bullet trains found across the world. In these trains, magnets are used to lift the vehicle a set distance off a surface, then to propel it forward (know as MAGLEV). Floating on a magnetic field means there’s a lack of friction, which is what allows bullet trains to reach such consistent high speeds. In the case of SLIDE, superconductors are housed in the board itself, encased in liquid nitrogen. This cools the superconductors, allowing them in interact with the magnetic field generated by the track they ride on. That is a key fact that many people tend to miss, the entire skate park where the SLIDE is being tested at has magnets under its surface, as the technology wouldn’t work on a regular surface. This means that if you were looking to buy a hoverboard for your back yard, you’d be out of luck, Lexus isn’t selling the SLIDE but even if they were, it wouldn’t work in your yard or driveway anyways. Even if you did get your hands on a SLIDE and had the surface, the need to refill the liquid nitrogen every 10 minutes or so would become quite the burden. So why bother?

Is It More Than A Gimmick

When discovering flight, mankind didn’t jump in with an f-18 right off the bat. It took many years of prototypes and design, theory and research, testing and trials before we got from a wooden biplane to an alloy jet fighter. At the time of early flight, the idea was laughed at and dismissed as being a pipe dream. The Lexus SLIDE is important in the same way. As it is now it’s impressive, although costly and impractical. What’s important about the SLIDE isn’t what the board currently is, but rather what the board can be.

While other automakers have spent the last 2 years dealing with recall woes and figuring out how to sell cars to China, Lexus has quietly been working on the SLIDE. This means that a major automaker (For those who are unaware, Lexus is part of Toyota) is now experimenting and testing ideas involving magnetic propulsion and levitation. Today, it’s a floating skateboard, but tomorrow, it could be a floating bicycle, then a floating go kart, all the way up to a full scale hovercraft. No wheels means no rolling resistance, which would lead to massive gains in fuel economy and speed. The technology could be applied to other areas of the car as well, further reducing friction and creating the most efficient vehicles we’ll ever see.

For the time being, the SLIDE is mainly a PR move. When looking for a new car, which company would be more likely to trust, the one who is buying back vehicles to fix airbags that can kill, or the one that has also managed to develop a working hoverboard? That’s not to undermine the importance of the project however, the SLIDE still represents the first steps towards a completely new type of vehicle, one that will be ripped straight from the pages of science fiction. We’re still a long way from that becoming a reality, but with continued prototypes and design, theory and research, testing and trials, just like in the early days of aircraft, we may eventually see the rise of a completely new type of vehicle (our fingers are crossed for some Star Wars-esque land speeders), all because of one little hoverboard.

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