Lexus claims to have invented a hoverboard, though it’s a bit of a tease—a video stops just as a teenager starts to step onto it. The unit, known as Slide, mostly sits there, slightly off the ground, emitting steam. “It’s an amazing new form of motion born of design, technology and creativity,” the company claims.
This really isn’t that far-fetched. Ford had hovercraft prototypes in the 1950s. But those were fanciful; Lexus claims it’s actually made its hoverboard work. Imagine, frictionless transportation. It could be as revolutionary as, uh, the Segway. Remember how that was going to change transportation as we know it?
In general principle, a hovercraft is an amphibious vehicle supported by a cushion of slightly pressurized air, but the Lexus invention has more in common with fast trains. The scuttlebutt is that the board uses the magnetic levitation principles that have powered commercial railways in China, Japan and Germany (just not yet in the U.S., where the idea took shape). In Lexus’ design, liquid nitrogen (hence the steam) cools superconductors and permanent magnets. Take a look at the video:
“The principle behind today’s hovercraft was first demonstrated by Sir Christopher Cockerell in 1955, using a contraption constructed with a cat food can, a coffee can and a set of kitchen scales,” says Discover Hover. “Sir Cockerell coined the term ‘hovercraft.’”
The hovercraft concept was actually known in the 18th century, a period when there was fascination with automatons of all kinds. A Frenchman built a walking mechanical duck; it didn't hover, but it did poop.
The Jetsons had some kind of hovercraft, didn’t they? Ford did play around with a hovercar called the Glideair in 1958, but it was only a three-foot model. Later, in 1959, Ford showed off the Leva car, which like Lexus’ mysterious skateboard used magnets for levitation. A working model was reportedly built, but high costs prevented it from getting far.
Curtiss-Wright also briefly advertised hover cars, including the 100-horsepower, two-seat Bee, and the more powerful four-seat 2500, which used two engines making 300 horsepower. Neither saw commercial production. We doubt you’ll ever be able to buy a Lexus hoverboard, either, though it might make a dandy auto show exhibit.
And speaking of cute ideas from automakers, Ford has developed a split-view camera that is actually available on the 2015 Ford Edge and Explorer (in the U.S. and China). It offers a 180-degree view in front or behind the car, and is said to “help drivers see around corners.” It’s no simple bendable sideways periscope, using mirrors to look ‘round the bend. In this case, the split-view system uses video feeds from one-megapixel wide-angle lens cameras mounted in both the grille and tailgate. The driver sees three panels with different views, and supposedly gets a good view of danger coming in either from the sides or head on. It’s a low-speed system, and shuts down when the car reaches 6.2 mph.
I love this detail: A tiny telescopic jet washer pops out to keep the cameras clean. And here's the video: