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This Hoverboard Can Save Us From Earthquakes

This is the Hendo, the namesake of an inventor named Greg Henderson, and it’s really more of a technology demo than something that’s going to get you to work in the morning.

Right now it’s effectively a parlor trick, and it apparently only works in parlors lined with a one of a small set of metals. But Henderson, who co-founded the hoverboard’s parent company Arx Pax with his wife Jill, imagines the technology that’s inside it could become a solution for keeping buildings from getting destroyed in floods and earthquakes by simply lifting them up.

They also say that it could serve as a replacement for the systems that currently levitate maglev trains.

Those ambitions are the opposite of humility, but Arx Pax seems like a humble company, situated in a nondescript office park in Los Gatos, California.

Also humble: the small square white box that floats just a few centimeters above metal surfaces, designed as a technology demo that will be made available to Kickstarter backers. It’s just like an air hockey table, but in reverse, where a large object is simply floating just a few millimeters above, and adrift.

But there’s no air, just a barreling thrum of whatever is going on inside the "white box." Inside it are a group of what Henderson refers to as hover engines, and the oversimplified explanation of how they work involves a little electromagnetism and Lenz’s law.

Scale this up a bit and you get the hoverboard I’m on. Go even bigger and you can hold up cars, trains, and even buildings. Or at least that’s the idea.

"A magnet has an electromagnetic field. It is equal in all areas. It has a north and a south pole," Henderson explains. "What if you were able to take that magnet, and organize the magnetic field so that it was only on one side? And then you combine that with other magnetic fields in a way that amplifies and focuses their strength? That’s magnetic field architecture."

When used on a material like the copper floor that I’m standing on, the entire unit floats a few centimeters off the ground. Goodbye friction, and hello hoverboard.

How that works with a human on top of it is fun, but not elegant. I used to skateboard quite a bit, but hopping on Hendo’s hoverboard is something else. The easiest way to describe it is like getting on a snowboard that’s just been pulled out of an oven.

He envisions it as something that could be useful for lifting a building off its foundation. In fact, that was the premise of the company before it was even talking hoverboards. A patent Henderson filed for the company last March envisions a three-part system that would put the hover engines in the very foundation of a building, lifting it up and out of the way of danger.

When I ask how you could handle 10 feet of water when this small white box and hoverboard lift up just a few centimeters, Henderson says the scale can go way up, and lift things even higher.

The tricky part is keeping them from going out of control, which the company is still working on. That could keep the hoverboard from going bananas when you shift your weight the wrong way, and hopefully scale up to keep taller objects from toppling over.
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