Is ArcaBoard the innovation we’ve all been waiting for?

A man stands on a floating ArcaBoard.

ArcaBoard Dumitru Popescu" is licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikipedia

10 February 2016 2 minute read

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Tantalised by 1989’s promise of the future, and an eternally cool Michael J. Fox gliding through Hill Valley, California, the hoverboard remains the, as yet unconquered, pinnacle of personal transportation.

The hoverboard, described by Guinness World Records as being any ‘autonomously powered personal levitator’ has so far eluded engineers and innovators across the world, although the real 2015 has brought us closer than ever to Marty Mcfly’s movie imagining.

First came the attempts of Canadian inventor Catalin Alexandru Duru, who in May of last year set the record for the longest distance travelled as the controlling pilot of a hoverboard. The device, powered by underfoot rotors, and resembling a favourite mode of transport of comic-book villains, carried Duru just shy of 276m across Lake Ouareau, and reached a peak height of 5m above the water.

Then, in June, Lexus sent hoverboard fans into a spin, releasing a video clip of a souped-up skateboard with its wheels stripped away, hovering inches from the ground, and shrouded in sci-fi worthy vapour. They followed this with the full advertising campaign, explaining that the Lexus SLIDE, made of an ultra-lightweight housing and topped with natural bamboo, was based on traditional maglev technology, and had been filmed in a specially designed skate park. Working in much the same way as magnetically levitating trains, the board utilised liquid nitrogen-cooled superconductors passing above a magnetic track to create lift, allowing the rider to navigate it through the air several inches above the ground, even performing tricks.

But it wasn’t until Christmas Eve that our calls for a personal levitator were answered, with Arca Space Corporation launching the sale of the world’s first commercially available hoverboard. The board, powered by thirty-six high-power, electric ducted fans, produces enough force to lift around 195kg or 430lbs and can rise up to 30cm above the ground.

A built-in stabilisation unit makes the platform stable in any conditions, meaning that, unlike hoverboards of the past, the ArcaBoard can fly over any terrain, unbound by a magnetic track. Riders can programme their smartphone to navigate the board to a particular destination or, for a more organic experience, can switch off the stabilisation and steer the board with their body instead.

However, with enough fans to lift the rider (including extras in case of engine failure), plus the controllers and batteries needed to keep the rotors turning, the ArcaBoard is not quite the slim, slick hoverboard of our imagination. Resembling less the skate-board style of science-fiction boards, and more Aladdin’s carpet on steroids, the ArcaBoard flies in at 145 by 76cm, and stands 15cm thick.

And its image is not the only thing curbing our excitement. Requiring 45,000 rotations per minute of the onboard fans to generate the necessary 272 horsepower and lift the flying carpet, battery life is a major limiting factor. The built-in batteries can provide six minutes of hovering technology, and need up to six hours to fully recharge, meaning your freedom from the constraints of gravity may be short-lived. Arca Space Corporations have however unveiled an additional charging accessory, allowing consumers to boost their batteries in just thirty-five minutes, making it faster than the average smartphone to recharge.

While it is unlikely that with its short, but sweet, flight time, and a fairly hefty price tag of $19,900, the ArcaBoard will be the answer to our dreams of effortlessly gliding into the sunset, it does highlight a momentous step in personal flight and is definitely the sort of innovation we can get behind.

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