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2015: When dreams of a hoverboard reality came crashing down

Published Jan 4th, 2016 11:45PM EST
Image: Screenshot / YouTube

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We can probably thank Back to the Future Part II for the bombardment of hoverboard-related news and hype over the past 12 months. As a quick refresher, the second installment of the Back to the Future trilogy featured Marty McFly time traveling to the futuristic year of 2015.

In turn, the movie provides us with an entertaining portrait of what people in 1989 envisioned life might be like in 2015. Without question, the most iconic detail of that portrait centered on the use of hoverboards, essentially floating skateboards that can ably defy gravity and take riders on incredible and thrilling rides.

DON’T MISS: The biggest ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ plot holes explained

That being the case, 2015 saw innumerable companies do their best to bring the hoverboard reality depicted in Back to the Future to life. In fact, because the longing for hoverboards remains so entrenched and unfulfilled, 2015 also marked the year when we started referring to self-propelled scooters as hoverboards (even though they have wheels).

All that said, below is a quick look back at some of the more notable hoverboard related stories that sprang up in 2015.

Without question, the most interesting hoverboard story of 2015 was the Lexus Slide hoverboard. This past August, Lexus released video footage of its hoverboard in action as something of a promotional stunt. As evident in the video below, the Lexus Slide does appear to function as a legit hoverboard, the one downside being that it requires the use of special magnetic technology implanted in the ground in order to work properly.

Speaking to Wired about the company’s hoverboard, Lexus said that it “relies on superconductors and magnets, which combine to repel the force of gravity and lift an object—like, say, a fancy skateboard and its rider—above the ground.”

As for the smoke seen in the video, rest assured that it’s not there for dramatic visual effects. Rather, that’s liquid nitrogen which is used to “cool the superconductors below their transition temperature.”

More recently, Arx Pax this past October unveiled a new version of its Hendo hoverboard. You might recall that the company had previously raised well over half a million dollars on Kickstarter to help design its original Hendo hoverboard. Designed in part by skateboarding legend Tony Hawk, the new Hendo hoverboard is essentially the body of a skateboard attached to four separate “hover engines.” As for how it levitates, it relies upon extremely powerful magnets.

At the end of the day, the Hendo hoverboard, not surprisingly, is more of a proof of concept product, though a cool one at that. Still, when compared to what we saw in Back to the Future II, it’s abundantly clear that the hoverboard future imagined in the beloved film hasn’t even come close to materializing.

But perhaps the strangest take on a legit hoverboard came in the form of this $20,000 hoverboard from ArcaSpace, a privately owned space company.

Dubbed the ArcaBoard, the device’s promise, like most hoverboards, eclipses its real-life performance. As evident in the video below, it’s a struggle to even keep the entire thing balanced. Powered by 36 high-powered fans, the ArcaBoard can reportedly deliver 272 horsepower and 430 pounds of thrust. While the company touts that its hoverboard has a built-in stabilization unit, the video seems to suggest that a lot more work needs to be done.

And while some companies busied themselves trying to create real hoverboards, the 2015 holiday season was dominated by various self-balancing scooters masquerading as hoverboards.

For whatever reason, people in 2015 started referring to self-balancing scooters as hoverboards, a completely misleading name given that self-balancing scooters have, oh I don’t know, wheels!

While I initially assumed that the hoverboard nomenclature was nothing more than a clever marketing ploy, Vox speculates that the gadget’s curious name may simply be the result of happenstance.

Calling it a hoverboard seems to have originated on YouTube. Casey Neistat, a filmmaker who posts vlogs on YouTube and has more than 2 million subscribers, was talked into buying a self-balancing scooter on Amazon in early June and quickly started referring to it as a hoverboard.

In July, TmarTn, a YouTube personality, bought one and described it in a video viewed more than 6 million times as a “Hoverboard, Segway-type thing”.

Either way, hoverboards in 2015 quickly transitioned from a niche product into a mainstream hit. Before you knew it, stores like Best Buy and Toys”R”Us were advertising all sorts of hoverboards, at increasingly affordable prices.

At the same time, the popularity of hoverboards belied a number of serious safety concerns. Most notably, reports of 10 hoverboards bursting into flames were recorded in nine different states, ultimately prompting the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to open up an investigation.

At the root of the problem is that many hoverboards came from “little-known companies and brands that buy them from Chinese factories“, thereby making it difficult to discern which companies were adhering to safety regulations and which ones were cutting corners.

As a result, nearly all major airlines in 2015 banned hoverboards from flights. What’s more, both Amazon and Target temporarily banned select hoverboard models from their online stores due to safety concerns.

Even Saturday Night Live got in on the action, lampooning the safety risks associated with hoverboards during a sketch that aired this past December.

But as funny as that is, nothing can top some real life footage of hoverboard fails, video of which was in heavy supply in the days following Christmas.

As 2015 came to a close, it was clear that the hoverboard-friendly future depicted in Back to the Future Part II remained nothing more than a pipe dream. If anything, the most notable hoverboard stories of 2015 had nothing to do with super cool gadgetry, but rather centered on the absurd ways in which people were using self-balancing scooters.

Three of the more prominent examples include the following:

Hoverboard jousting:

Using a hoverboard to commit a crime:

And last but not least, Mike Tyson, the champ himself, violently falling flat on his back after a hoverboard mishap.

Yoni Heisler Contributing Writer

Yoni Heisler has been writing about Apple and the tech industry at large with over 15 years of experience. A life long expert Mac user and Apple expert, his writing has appeared in Edible Apple, Network World, MacLife, Macworld UK, and TUAW.

When not analyzing the latest happenings with Apple, Yoni enjoys catching Improv shows in Chicago, playing soccer, and cultivating new TV show addictions.