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That Time We… Rode A Real-life Hoverboard

Lexus ponders a life beyond roads and takes us back to the future

Last updated March 10th, 2024
Words by Mr Leon Poultney
Skater on Lexus Hoverboard riding skatepark bowl - Back to the future part 2 riding a hover board review | SEIKK Magazine
Jumping a Lexus car on a hoverboard - Back to the future part 2 riding a hover board review | SEIKK Magazine

Ever since Marty McFly gracefully evaded a group of futuristic cyber punks atop his equally space age hoverboard in Back to the Future Part II, we’ve harboured a desire to don a pair of high-top trainers and glide to work with friction-free folly atop a hover board.

Rewind to 2016, when Japanese carmaker Lexus released a short film showing professional UK skateboarder Ross McGouran blasting around a skatepark in sunny Spain on what looks to be the most convincing hover board yet, we couldn’t help but board a plane and find out what was going on for ourselves.

The video in question was titled ‘Lexus SLIDE’ and it depicted a beautifully styled board, complete with billowing dry ice, gracefully gliding along a skate park somewhere on the outskirts of Barcelona.

Naturally, the gadget world began salivating when initial teaser clips and images first surfaced and the grapevine was rife with rumours about whether it was all CGI or if, in fact, Lexus had actually cracked the levitating code.

Filming Lexus Hoverboard SLIDE - Back to the future part 2 riding a hover board review | SEIKK Magazine
FILMING THE LEXUS HOVERBOARD SLIDE IN RIDING A HOVER BOARD REVIEW

We can confirm that was (and still likely is) very real, as the first thing we spied upon arrival at the top secret filming location was a board mysteriously hovering two inches off the floor. But all wasn’t quite as it seemed.

There is no CGI and there are no strings or ropes attached

“The whole thing is an elaborate magic trick,” explained Henry Alex Rubin, the project’s artistic driving force and award-winning film director. “There is no CGI and there are no strings or ropes attached, but there are a few secrets behind how it all works,” he points out.

Busting The Marty McFly Myth

Dr. Oliver de Haas from German engineering firm Evico provided the brains behind the project and he invited me to a makeshift tent at the rear of the film set to reveal the secrets of the Lexus hoverboard.

Lexus Hoverboard on the workbench - Back to the future part 2 riding a hover board review | SEIKK Magazine
LEXUS HOVERBOARD ON THE WORKBENCH IN RIDING A HOVER BOARD REVIEW

“The first thing, I must admit, is that the skate park you see here is made of plywood and not concrete,” he sheepishly admits in this thick German accent.

“Underneath that plywood is a purpose-built track of extremely powerful magnets that the board runs on.”

We have worked on this for 18 months and it’s the coolest thing we have ever done

It turns out that the technology is similar to the magnetic levitation system used on the high-speed Japanese train network, where carriages use magnetic fields to hover above tracks, reducing friction and electricity consumption, and increasing speed.

“The difference here is that our hover board doesn’t require electricity, nor does it have any moving parts,” Dr. de Haas added.

Here’s the really clever bit though: the Lexus hover board packs a Type 2 semi-conductor comprised of 32 cells made up of Yttrium, Barium and Copper Oxide. If you were to dismantle the board it would look a bit like a chocolate bar.

Before the Lexus-designed decks are able to go out on track, they are first ‘set-up’ by the engineers, a process that involves holding the deck above a small section of magnetic track and then pouring liquid nitrogen into the holes at the side of the board.

In basic scientific terms, this process freezes the magnetic field into the semi-conductor and allows the board to grip it and hover above the surface of the track.

This was like nothing I have ever ridden before

“We have worked on this for 18 months and it’s the coolest thing we have ever done,” Dr. de Haas beamed as he pushed a hovering board back and forth.

“People may be disappointed that it isn’t the go-anywhere hover board of their dreams, but it is the next best thing.”

Leave It To The Professionals

If you thought the engineering feat was impressive, wait until you meet the guy who was tasked with wrangling the thing around the purpose-built park. His name is Ross McGouran and he’s a professional rider for the Vans European skate team.

Leon testing the Lexus Hoverboard in Barcelona - Back to the future part 2 riding a hover board review | SEIKK Magazine
LEON TESTING THE LEXUS HOVERBOARD IN RIDING A HOVER BOARD REVIEW

Attempting to flee the fierce Barcelona sun, he joined me in the shade and elucidated on his experiences with the board: “This was like nothing I have ever ridden before. There just isn’t any friction, so the board will basically go as fast as you push it. But it’s really dangerous and I picked up my fair share of injuries during filming.”

At the time, Ross was nursing a busted ankle when we met him, which is testament to just how hard he pushed the technology, all in the name of Marty McFly rad-ness.

“The engineers told me it wouldn’t clear a jump.” Ross smirks, referring to the section of film where he impressively soars over a car. “I had to gather enough momentum to make the board break free of the magnetic pull. It was stupidly fast.”

An awesome and utterly un-repeatable experience, but time spent with Ross, the hoverboard and boffins from Lexus confirmed to us that the Nike high-tops may have to remain in their box for a few more years, at least until Lexus launches something that won’t break our ankles.

Hoverboard floating over water - Back to the future part 2 riding a hover board review | SEIKK Magazine
HOVERBOARD FLOATING OVER WATER IN RIDING A HOVER BOARD REVIEW

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FAQ

What is the Lexus hoverboard?

Arguably a clever PR stunt, the Lexus hover board brought together some of the finest engineering minds to create a ‘hover board’ that uses magnetic levitation technology to hover above the ground, providing a unique and futuristic mode of transportation that, despite our greatest hopes, will likely never catch on.

How does the Lexus hoverboard work?

The Lexus hover board uses superconductors and magnets to create a magnetic field that repels against the magnetic track beneath it, allowing it to levitate and glide effortlessly above the ground.

Is the Lexus hoverboard available for purchase?

Unfortunately, the Lexus hover board was a limited-edition concept and is not available for commercial purchase at this time.

Can anyone ride the Lexus hoverboard?

The Lexus hover board is designed for experienced riders who have a good sense of balance and control. It requires practice and skill to ride effectively. We tried and failed on several occasions to make it more than a few feet.

What is the maximum weight limit for the Lexus hoverboard?

The maximum weight limit for the Lexus hover board is typically around 200kg, but it was never designed to carry more than one very skilled rider.

How long does the battery last on the Lexus hoverboard?

There isn’t an on-board battery and instead, the hover board uses magnets and superconductors to ‘glide’ above a rail that has been buried under the ground. The device has to maintain very low temperatures, so the run time is limited to the point that the board gets too warm and the superconductors stop functioning.

Leon has a long career covering automotive, tech and lifestyle for some of the biggest names in publishing. When he’s not furiously tapping away at his keyboard, he can be found taking an angle grinder to old motorcycles.

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