OPINION: Stop calling Hoverboards, hoverboards

The lithium battery which powers the device has a tendency to short circuit, overheat and even spontaneously combust. (Ben Larcey/Flickr [CC BY 2.0])

The lithium battery which powers the device has a tendency to short circuit, overheat and even spontaneously combust. (Ben Larcey/Flickr [CC BY 2.0])

The first concept of the hoverboard, a levitating board used for transportation, was popularized in the 1989 film “Back to the Future Part II,” when time traveler Marty McFly used the flying skateboard to great effect throughout the three-part movie series.

The current incarnation of hoverboard that most everyone is familiar with is not a hoverboard at all, but is instead a “self-balancing two-wheeled board” controlled by the rider’s feet through gyroscopic sensor pads.

These non-hoverboards range from $300 to $900, with some cheaper models going as low as $150. Although these seem neat to zip around the streets, its safety hazards and definitive roles as a transportation device have been called into question by many.

The lithium battery which powers the device has a tendency to short circuit, overheat and even spontaneously combust. These horrifying events have caused places such as Mecca, Britain, Germany, Scotland, Australia and New York City to ban it from the public.

The question being asked by many is quite simply, why are these clearly non-hovering deathtraps referred to as hoverboards, especially when actual hoverboards are in development right now through Silicon Valley startups like ArxPax.

ArxPax is a Kickstarter-funded company currently developing hovering technology through a very unconventional source, magnetic energy. To get consumers excited about the technology ArxPax developers sought out the illusive hoverboard to get their point across.

The company succeeded in creating the Hendo Hoverboard. This hoverboard prototype, while slightly unwieldy at first, allows for the rider to actually hover a half an inch above the ground. It went into production last year after the $500,000 kickstarter destroyed its initial $250,000 goal.

Although the Hendo Hoverboard is extremely exciting to the average consumer, the real focus is the technology underneath the board.

“The hoverboard is just the first step, it’s a proof of concept. It’s the simplest way of demonstrating our technology in a way everyone can understand,” said The CEO of ArcPax, Greg Henderson in an interview by Motherboard.

Henderson plans to use this technology for not only a revolution in transportation through basically limitless energy and propulsion, but also for building foundation as well.

“In effect, the integration means that in an earthquake, a building with an Arx Pax foundation and a ShakeAlert system could automatically “de-couple” itself from the ground for the duration of the shaking,” said Henderson states in an interview with FastCompany. “One second [of warning] is all we need for our hover system.”

This could be a huge breakthrough in many states like California where earthquakes are a constant threat to everyday life. Development kits were sent out as lower-tier buy ins for the Kickstarter, and although the community has surprised ArxPax, the cost of the conductive substrate is what’s stopping them from becoming much bigger than they already have become.

“Today, copper is most efficient but we’re working on trying to deposit the conductive substrate as paint or concrete. It’d give you the possibility to take spray paint and go over city streets,” said Scott Santandrea, head of business development at Arx Pax, in an interview with Motherboard.  “You’re talking about a reduction from on the order of tens of dollars per square foot to something that’s tenths of cents a square foot.”

A material as cheap and as substantive as paint or concrete could go a long way in getting this technology out into the public’s hands.

So stop calling hoverboards, hoverboards people. All you’re doing is making it harder for us all to bring this way cooler tech into our lives, and endangering the public along the way.

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