We live in an age of such dazzling technological progress that it can seem at times like absolutely anything is possible—indeed, just over the horizon. We have jetpacks, augmented-reality glasses, bionic legs. Where’s my flying car? Right here.
But some things remain out of reach even in these vertiginous times. And I’m sorry to report, dear friends, that one of these is the hoverboard.
Our collective hoverboard fantasy was sparked in 1989 by Robert Zemeckis. In Back to the Future, Part II, Michael J. Fox’s Marty McFly hops a Mattel-brand gizmo that looks like a pink skateboard deck without wheels. Floating inches above the ground, he zips over sidewalks, roads, a wooden bridge, and a car before his ride peters out over water. (Everyone knows hoverboards don’t work on water.)
The movie was set in the year 2015, giving Mattel just three more years to make kids’ dreams come true on schedule. Almost 150,000 people have liked the Facebook page “It’s 2010, where the hell is my hoverboard?” On a regular basis, headlines on tech blogs suggest that it is nearly here, that some company, artist, or team of researchers has indeed turned Zemeckis’ vision into reality at long last. Here’s a small sample:
“The Hoverboard – FOR SALE!” - YouTube video, May 2007
“A Real, Working Hoverboard Exists” – Gizmodo, May 2010
“Real Life Hoverboard” – Buzzfeed, October 2011
“Mattel Is Finally Making the Back to the Future Hoverboard” Gizmodo, February 2012
“Mattel’s Hoverboard Is Now a Reality?” – Mashable, February 2012
Now, let’s evaluate some of those efforts. It would be unfair, of course, to expect a real-world equivalent to look and perform exactly like the one in the movie. And semi-reasonable people can debate the precise criteria for a legitimate hoverboard. But I think we can all agree that, for starters, it must a) be a board and b) hover.