Exeposé Science & Tech online (5 July 2015)
“There is no such thing as impossible… It’s just a matter of figuring out how.”
The words are from Haruhiko Tanahashi, Lexus Chief Engineer. And they flash across the screen as we watch two anonymous feet ditch a skateboard for – well, it looks like a hoverboard.
Yep. This is the teaser ad for luxury car manufacturer Lexus’ latest creation: the SLIDE. It’s a rideable hoverboard. The first real rideable hoverboard in the world. The sad news is, it’s not for sale. But I’m not too certain we’d want one just yet anyway. Because everything’s still a bit… well, up in the air.
See, the more observant viewer will notice that in the ad, we don’t see the hoverboard in use. And that’s because it’s not actually fully usable… yet. At the moment, the SLIDE only works on certain (extremely specific) surfaces. And here’s the science behind why:
The SLIDE uses a clever pairing of superconductors and magnets to get itself off the ground. These superconductors are extremely good at (you guessed it) conducting electricity. However, to do this, they need to be cooled down to absolutely freezing temperatures.
In the case of the SLIDE, liquid nitrogen does the job – getting the SLIDE’s superconductor to probably somewhere around the -292 degrees Fahrenheit mark. At this temperature, electrons in the superconductor can move through it with next to no resistance.
And it’s when things get down to these ridiculous lows that the SLIDE’s magnetic trick gets to work. At warmer temperatures, magnetic fields can pass through the superconductor without a problem – but cool it down enough, and the magnetic field lines actually get trapped.
So you’ve now got a superconductor “stuck” in the magnetic field, at a certain point. And because there’s practically no electrical resistance in the superconductor, as long as things stay cold it’ll stay attached, floating – or hovering – above the magnet.
Of course, this means that if you want to go anywhere on the SLIDE, you’ll have to get someone to run ahead and install a load of extremely strong magnets along your route. So Lexus’ ad showing the SLIDE hovering above the pavement isn’t entirely the full story.
They’ve made a working prototype though, according to BBC reports. And while Lexus may be keeping us guessing as to when the SLIDE will be hitting the streets (or hovering above them), the news has already sparked excitement – along with a healthy amount of scepticism.
So yes, it might seem as if our Back to the Future II dreams are finally coming true – but for now, we should probably keep our feet firmly on the ground.