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.
Thirty years after the “Back to the Future” series was released USA TODAY takes a look at where Michael J. Fox is now.
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USA TODAY asks people along Hollywood Boulevard their favorite memories about the movie ‘Back to the Future.’ Video produced by Robert Hanashiro.
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Thirty years after “Back to the Future” was released USA TODAY takes a look at where Lea Thompson who plays Lorraine is now.
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Thirty years after ‘Back to the Future’ captivated audiences, Christopher Lloyd spoke to USA TODAY about the movie’s success, the Chicago Cubs, the DeLorean and the future.
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Thirty years after the “Back to the Future” series was released USA TODAY takes a look at where Christopher Lloyd is now.
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The 1989 film Back to the Future II featured a fictional copy of USA TODAY from 2015. Our own Waldy Diez takes a look at other pop culture references to the paper over the years.
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Thirty years after the “Back to the Future” series was released USA TODAY takes a look at where Thomas F. Wilson who plays Biff is now.
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Marty McFly and Doc Brown are supposed to arrive from 1985 in two months. USA Today’s Waldy Diez describes what was popular then and how life is different 30 years later.
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Some movies just wouldn’t be the same without their awesome cars. Check out some of our favorites from the ’60s, ’70s & ’80s.
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We are living in the future as imagined in “Back to the Future Part II.” Well, sort of. We’re still waiting on those flying cars.
Video provided by Newsy
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The creators of ‘Back to the Future’ have released a fictional trailer for the film ‘Jaws 19,’ which was mentioned in “Back to the Future: Part 2”.
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The 2015 Marty McFly experienced in ‘Back to the Future Part II’ is quite different from the world we live in today, but the 1985 film got some predictions right.
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Just like Marty McFly saw in 1989’s Back to the Future Part II, Nike will produce self-tying power laces in 2015.
Shannon Rae Green, USA TODAY
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A California startup has designed what’s considered to be the first real consumer hoverboard. As AP’s Haven Daley reports, the floating board was inspired by the fictional gadget in the film “Back to the Future.” (Nov. 12)
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Hendo Hover launched a KickStarter campaign to fund the world’s first real hoverboard.
Video provided by Buzz60
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‘Back to the Future II’ made some bold predictions about what the year 2015 would be like. Now that it’s here, Mara Montalbano (@maramontalbano) shows us what the movie got right.
Video provided by Buzz60
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Every 80’s kids’ favorite mad scientist will come ‘Back to the Future’ to appear in a new short called ‘Doc Brown Saves the World’. As Mara Montalbano (@maramontalbano) tells us, it’s part of the films’ 30th anniversary DVD/Blue Ray re-issue.
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‘Back to the Future’ stars, Christopher Lloyd and Lea Thompson, attend the largest screening of the film to celebrate its 30th anniversary; with a score performed live by the Los Angeles Philharmonic conducted by David Newman. (July 1)
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“Back to the Future” fans are in for a treat, with Lexus showing off the world’s first fully-functional hoverboard. But if you’re hoping to buy one, you’re in for a long wait.
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Back to the future, here we come! The Guinness World Record has been set for farthest journey by hoverboard. Sean Dowling (@SeanDowlingTV) has the video you have to see.
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‘Back to the Future Part II’ predicted the Chicago Cubs would win the 2015 World Series. Volo Auto Museum will give a way a DeLorean if they actually pull it off. Gillian Pensavalle (@GillianWithaG) has the details.
Video provided by Buzz60
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A Houston company is offering ‘Back to the Future’ fans a chance to own their very own DeLorean. The price for a screen-accurate version will run you about $45,000.
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‘Back to the Future’ 30 years later: Michael J. Fox
‘Back to the Future’ memories, 30 years later
‘Back to the Future’ 30 years later: Lea Thompson
‘Back to the Future’ with Christopher Lloyd
‘Back to the Future’ 30 years later: Christopher Lloyd
Pop culture references to USA TODAY
‘Back to the Future’ 30 years later: Thomas F. Wilson
What life is like 30 years after ‘Back to the Future’
Cool movie cars from the ’60s, ’70s & ’80s
We’ve reached the future of ‘Back to the Future’
Trailer: ‘Jaws 19’
‘Back to the Future Part II’ got this right about 2015
Nike to make ‘Back to the Future’ self-tying power laces
‘Back to the Future’ hoverboard really floats
Kickstarter campaign for real-life hoverboards
What ‘Back to the Future II’ got right about 2015
Doc Brown comes ‘Back to the Future’ for all new short in trilogy’s 30th anniversary re-issue
Stars find their way ‘Back to the Future’
Introducing the world’s first working hoverboard
World record set for longest hoverboard ride
Museum giving away DeLorean if Chicago Cubs win 2015 World Series
Buy your very own DeLorean for only $45,000
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.
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