In the heart of the Silicon Valley, amid the shadows of more than a dozen giant Google buildings, I’m white-knuckling a metal ballet-type bar welded waist-high to a chain link fence in the parking lot of a wholly unremarkable single story office building.

This was not the day to wear high heels, even “sensible” wedges, I think to myself, as I take two deep breaths and let go. I teeter and wobble for a second, then, there it is. I’m hovering — sort of — equal parts totally geeked-out excited by the feel of this partially levitating skateboard and completely let-down because I’m not actually flying.

I’m riding the Hoverboard. Or, as I’ve come to think of it, the almost-hoverboard Hoverboard.

It’s been nearly 30 years since Back To The Future II introduced the idea of a skateboard that could fly, and the craving of having one like it, hasn’t subsided since. At the time, Hollywood’s best guess for when hoverboards would become “a thing” was October 21, 2015. It’s October of 2015 and, like a self-fulfilling prophecy, I was invited by the inventor of the Hoverboard to take one for a spin.

The conveyance I tested in a California parking lot carries the name Hoverboard, but it’s really a one-wheeled skateboard packed with computers. The electric board uses a single oversized, motorized wheel in the center of the board to get you going. Like a Segway, it’s gyro-stabilized to keep you upright and riding one is similar to snowboarding or surfing, only you’re doing it on pavement. The board is covered in flashy LEDs, has a top speed of 20 miles per hour, and can travel up to 12 miles before needing a recharge.

It looks like something you’d expect to see in a movie where robots roam the Earth and space travel is something normal people do for fun. There’s no denying that this app-connected, Bluetooth-enabled, music-playing board is a technological marvel, but it just doesn’t hover.

“No, it doesn’t actually hover, fly, or float in the air without the wheel touching the ground,” explained inventor Robert Bigler, who bares more than a passing resemblance to “Doc” Brown from the Back to the Future movies. “But it’s the closest we’ll come in our lifetime to a ‘real’ hoverboard.”

For some people the fact it doesn’t actually levitate off the ground is a deal breaker. (Some people are really angry at Bigler’s Hoverboard Technologies company for calling his contraption a hoverboard.) For others, it’s close enough. I’m in the latter camp, at least for this first test ride. I love how I don’t actually feel like I’m steering something. I just think “move left” and the board feels like an extension of my body and starts to move to the left. The more I relax and trust the board, the better I do, even though there’s a steep learning curve. After an hour, I’m barely making it more than a few car lengths without hanging to something or stepping off the board before I crash into the cement. But I’ve had a taste of a hoverboard and I want more. Sadly, I won’t be able to afford this $4,000 model any time soon, even at it’s Kickstarter discount price of $3,775.

“Really our magic is in making it a personal super performance vehicle. Will we try to make it less expensive someday? Yes. We’re working on a more modest mid-range and even lower-range version, but it’s never going to be ‘cheap.’ This isn’t a toy.” said Bigler.

Like the fictional scientist in the movies (same hair pattern – none in the middle, graying around the edges, similar large expressive eyes, same childlike enthusiasm that sweeps you up in his excitement for these mad-cap gadgets), Mr. Bigler is a lifelong inventor and entrepreneur, who has a knack for creating technology a bit ahead of its time. In the mid-90’s, he invented the SmartMotor, an all-in-on gadget for motion control that basically collected dust for more than five years before it became a huge hit in the robotics industry. Now, it’s everywhere, including the Space Station, automotive and food assembly lines and every subway gate in the country of Singapore.

Bigler sold the SmartMotor, along along with his company, Animatics to Moog Inc., back in 2011 for about 25 million dollars. Since then, he’s spent several years and more than two million dollars of his own money, creating this Hoverboard.

“I wanted to do something fun. I had this idea of a hoverboard in my head and I was desperate to ride it,” Bigler explained. “All the basic technologies were there; motor control, lithium ion chemistries that are delivering tremendous power densities, and the microcontroller technologies. I could see all of these deliver the experience of surfing on land and that’s really what I was after.”

Personal transportation is getting more fuel efficient all the time, but even next to a gas-sipping moped, Mr. Bigler’s Hoverboard looks like a Tesla. It’s a unique and powerful invention, but by calling it a hoverboard Bigler has invited comparisons to the fictional floating skateboard and other hoverboard projects that were never designed to be offered to consumers.

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Lexus, which recently introduced a magnet-laden hoverboard of its own creation, would never dream of actually selling it. It requires a fresh supply of liquid nitrogen at all times and can only be used on a special track that is also loaded with magnets. It’s beyond over-the-top, but it actually does hover.

The same is true for the Hendo Hoverboard which garnered a ton of attention this time last year following its successful Kickstarter campaign in which the company sold a grand total of 11 hoverboards for $10,000 each. The Hendo board is also reliant on magnets, so there’s no place to ride it right now. Hendo’s parent company, Arx Pax, is expected to announce a new 2.0 version of its hoverboard tomorrow, basically to make-good on those bought during the Kickstarter campaign.

Bigler’s one-wheeled board, by comparison, has sold to more than 40 backers so far, and it’s both structurally realistic and potentially ready for production. Riding on it feels like you’re gliding on air, until you remember that you’re not. The cold truth of the matter is that it’s 2015 and science simply hasn’t caught up to Hollywood’s ambition, and if you want a board that glides on air you need to be insanely rich.

The alternative—and what I’m willing to do as soon as the price comes down—is to accept the compromise. I’ll deal with one wheel and pretend the weightless feeling I’m enjoying is real, even though I know that it’s not.

Jennifer Jolly is an Emmy Award-winning consumer tech contributor and host of USA TODAY’s digital video show TECH NOW. E-mail her at techcomments@usatoday.com. Follow her on Twitter @JenniferJolly.

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