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Future Tech: 

Real-life hoverboards from best to worst

Real life hoverboards from best to worst

Is Hendo the closest we’ve come to a real-life hoverboard?

Ever since its first on-screen appearance back in 1989, the hoverboard from Back to the Future II has been exciting and frustrating fans in equal measure. Alongside Doc’s Delorean and Marty McFly’s self-lacing Nike trainers, the hoverboard is one of Hollywood’s most craved and sought-after props – and yet 25 years later it still remains infuriatingly out of reach.

In a world where driverless cars, drones and smartwatches are fast becoming old news, a real-life hoverboard feels long overdue. Every now and again we’re offered a glimmer of hope, only to have our dreams of levitation snatched away like a shiny ribbon from an overexcited puppy. Earlier this year, for instance, many were fooled by HUVr – a board that looked like the real deal with its glossy star studded promo and professional looking website – only to discover it was an elaborate prank at the hands of Funny Or Die.

Hoverboard hoaxes are nothing new. Even the director of Back to the Future, Robert Zemeckis, added fuel to the fire by teasing interviewers that he’d used actual hoverboards in filming – needless to say, this was all an evil lie. That’s right Zemeckis, evil.

Of course, there have also been legitimate attempts at building real-life hoverboards – the latest of which is this week’s Hendo Kickstarter campaign. It’s creators claim Hendo is “the world’s first hoverboard,” which is not strictly true, but it may be the best yet. Let’s take a look at its competition.

1) It looks just like the real thing!

Mattel hoverboard replica

Mattel’s Back to the Future hoverboard replica was named ‘worst toy of 2012’

Film fans were delighted a few years ago when toy company Mattel announced it was making a replica of the Back to the Future hoverboard. It was the perfect size, the colour was spot-on and it even had sound effects to transport you to the year 2015 (which is admittedly much less futuristic-sounding than when Marty McFly travelled there.) The problem is that the thing cost $120 (£75) and, errr, it didn’t hover. Like, not even a little bit. Mattel’s replica was named ‘Worst Toy of 2012’ by Gizmodo which explained: “It’s not a hoverboard. It’s a board at best.”

Hoverboard rating: 0/10

Reason: It’s not a hoverboard.

2) It is the real thing! Except it’s not

Marty McFly's actual hoverboard sold for £26,000 at a UK auction

Marty McFly’s actual hoverboard sold for £26,000 at a UK auction

The actual ‘hoverboard’ from Back to the Future is effectively a colourful plank of wood, but it’s still an object of great value. Okay, it might not hover either, but it sold for £26,000 at a UK auction and there are far worse things you could spend your money on. 350 Mattel replica hoverboards, for example.

Hoverboard rating: 2/10

Reason: If we had a spare £26,000 we’d have snapped this up, but c’mon, let’s see some hoverboards that really hover!

3) Okay, this one actually hovers

Now we’re talking. This board from french artist Nils Guadagnin both looks and hovers like a hoverboard. An electromagnetic system is built into the board and the plinth on which it stands, while lasers are used to hold it in place. The installation formed part of Guadagnin’s 2008 exhibition, Back to the Future.

Hoverboard rating: 4/10

Reason: Well it is is a board, and it does hover – but that’s ALL it does. So well done on defying gravity Nils, but good luck escaping those high school bullies on this piece of junk (We’re joking of course, nice effort)

4) Now add some weight…

As well as being completely static, the main issue with Nils’ hoverboard is that it couldn’t withhold human body weight. Well, this effort from Don Dula can’t either, but it does stay afloat with a passenger weighing up to five pounds. Small steps of progress, but steps nonetheless.

Hoverboard rating: 4.5

Reason: It can hold a salt shaker which could be useful at Thanksgiving, but not much else. Next!

5) L’ hoverboard est magnifique!

Now we’re getting somewhere (literally). Mag Surf was built by researchers at Universite Paris Diderot, and can not only withstand human body weight but can also move – albeit along a magnetic track coated with liquid nitrogen. The technology is getting there, but we’re still a long way from a practical, affordable hoverboard.

Hoverboard rating: 5

Reason: More of an experiment than a product, but at the very least it looks like it’d be a lot of fun.

6) Speaking of hover boards that look fun…

The Gadget Show’s attempt in 2009 is more hovercraft than hoverboard, but after watching presenter Jason Bradbury sliding around a basketball court we were dying to have a go. Luckily all the parts can be bought from your local DIY store, so you can watch the video above and build one for yourself. Go forth and hover.

Hoverboard rating: 5

Reason: It seems to work fine in a shiny-floored sports centre, but we’re less optimistic about hitting the streets. 

7) So close, yet so far

Sticking with hovercrafts, it’s worth mentioning Aerofex’s Aero-X. This thing is capable of hovering 10 feet above the ground and is yours for just $85,000. That seems a lot, but it’s basically a flying car and can reach speeds of up to 45 miles per hour. Having said that, it’s definitely not a hoverboard so perhaps we’re getting off track…

Hoverboard rating: 6

Reason: We’re definitely hovering now, so why can’t somebody just build a damn hoverboard already?!

8) It’s not perfect, but it’s the best we’ve got

And finally here’s the Hendo, this week’s Kickstarter campaign which has already surpassed its $250,000 target with another 52 days of fundraising left on the clock. First, the negatives – it costs $10,000, it’s noisy and – worst of all – it requires a metal surface in order to hover.

Having said all that, it is a proper hoverboard. Hendo uses a miniaturized version of the technology found in maglev trains, which is effectively a form of electromagnetic levitation that would make it suitable for copper-lined skateparks. It looks the part and those who’ve tested it admitted it was fun to ride. Whatever the Hendo’s flaws are, then, for now it’s the best we’ve got.

Hoverboard rating: 6.5

Reason: Hoverboards remain firmly in the future for now. If not in 2015 though, perhaps in ten years we can get our hands on something that Marty Mcfly would recognise.

Original hoverboard photo: REX/C.Villemain/REX

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