By Beatrice Endler
Catlin Speak (Portland, Oregon)
Remember the time when both Futurama and The Simpsons had a crossover episode, called Future-Drama? Well, if not, here is the low-down: Homer buys a slightly defective hover car, and he drives Bart and Bender for a brief time, around in this new vehicle. Also, who could forget the Green Goblin’s Glider, or Marty McFly’s hoverboard?
Well, these hovering means of transportation, that once only existed on T.V., comic books, and in the futuristic fantasies of nerds and kids everywhere, have become a reality of sorts.
In Oct. 2014, Hendo Hover launched the Hendo Hoverboard, which uses Magnetic Field Architecture (MFA). MFA is a less expensive and simpler method of creating hover technology (but perhaps more expensive to maintain), as compared to Maglev systems, since MFA manipulates weaker magnetic fields to do more work. According to the website for Arx Pax, which is the umbrella company of Hendo Hover, “The MFA hover engine generates a primary magnetic field, which induces electrical currents in the conductive surface. These eddy currents then create a secondary magnetic field which repels the primary field.”
In order to raise money for the Hendo Hoverboard campaign, Arx Pax began to sell a Hover Engine developer kit, which was a smaller version of the $10,000 hoverboard. This small-scale hover technology costs $299, is 12 pounds, but can carry 40 pounds, can levitate for seven minutes, and it has a battery with an efficiency of 40 watts per kilogram.
Opposing magnetic fields, which induce currents in “conductive surfaces,” like copper and aluminum, generate the propulsion and lift that allow objects to have hovering capabilities, although they are not very sustained as of yet (a lot of energy is required for prolonged levitation). In addition, electromagnetic levitation only occurs at half-inch off of a specific surface. These two facts do not give much hope to the idea that a full-fledged hoverboard, which can act as transportation more than a half inch off the ground, will be developed at a reasonable cost. However, Hendo Hover and Arx Pax have other plans for how MFA can be utilized to benefit the world.
On Sept. 2, 2015, Arx Pax made an SAA (Space Act Agreement) with NASA regarding the use of MFA to control the movement of small satellites in space. According to the Arx Pax website, transferring the same MFA technology to space could allow NASA to possibly “manipulate and couple satellites from a distance,” by creating a “magnetic tether” between the objects. This could eliminate the need to physically touch a satellite to move it.
Arx Pax initially set out to develop a method to levitate a building, following in the footsteps ofMaglev trains, but it branched off into the Hendo Hoverboard because the company needed a way to model this levitation on a smaller scale. Giving buildings the ability to hover on and off, can possibly help protect the infrastructure of cities during natural disasters. In places especially prone to earthquakes and floods, this hovering technology has the potential to be a very useful resource in preventing damage and saving money that would have had to be spent on repairs on structures such as houses and hospitals.
Maglev is another electromagnetically-based system, founded in Japan, that created the first ever levitating train. Without a track, and with less friction, the commercial version of this train can reach speeds up to 270 mph. Although this system works, it requires lots of sensors along the entire track, and it is very expensive for countries to adopt as a means of transportation. A U.S. company has tested out the Maglev system, and has approximated that to lay down a meter of the track costs about $750,000, whereas Arx Pax, if it were to construct its own levitating train, has approximated their price at around $10,000 for each meter of the track.
Although the energy required to maintain the Hendo hovering technology is expensive, the cost to initially create this technology, in any of its forms, is a lower price than its Maglev equivalents. Additionally, the Hendo hovering techniques, which exploit weaker magnetic fields, have the potential to prevent structural devastation during natural disasters.
Photo Credit: The Seattle Times