Hover boards and Maglev Trains: Are Levitating Cars Next?

Auto careerHover boards and hover cars are the beloved highlights of science fiction favourites. From an early age, these futuristic devices from The Jetsons, Back to the Future and Star Wars made us wonder if someday they would become reality. Although we are still very early on in the development of levitation technology, it would appear that the future is now. Architect Greg Henderson has been developing electromagnetic technology for 20 years, for the purpose of building structures which can withstand earthquakes. Although he wasn’t intending on delving into a futuristic auto career, Henderson quickly realized that the technology he had been studying could be applied to transportation—thus the birth of the Hendo hoverboard. But Henderson is not the only person making headway into hover technology—train and automotive companies are performing research on the subject, and in some cases already developing transportation that uses the same levitation concept as a hoverboard.

Maglev Trains

Maglev (magnetic levitation) trains have been in development and test production since the 1970s. Although many countries—specifically Japan, Germany, China and now the U.S.—have test facilities for maglev trains, the only running system is in Shanghai. Maglev trains work by using electromagnetic suspension (EMS), which requires superconductors on the train and a series of electromagnetic coils running on the track under the train, to create a current which causes levitation. The train is then put into propulsion by another set of electromagnetic coils. The benefit of this mode of transportation is that it eliminates wheel to rail friction, which in turn allows the train to reach higher speeds (the current world record is 517 km/h).

Volkswagen & Toyota Developing Hover Cars?

Although currently a concept car, Volkswagen released a video several years ago depicting their version of a hover car. The idea was sent in by a young woman aspiring to an automotive career, who never imagined that Volkswagen would actually take up her plan and develop a CGI version of the futuristic vehicle. The hover car would be coin-shaped, operate with a joystick and seat two people. Though the video explains that the vehicle can hover via minerals in the ground, Volkswagen doesn’t show how the hover car will actually propel forward.

The Volkswagen concept does not appear to be going into production anytime soon, but it certainly does tell us that car manufacturers are looking into this type of technology. In some ways, the automotive industry is already evolving towards hover car technology with self-driving cars. Volvo is currently testing their idea of magnetic roads , which interact with sensors in an autonomous car to calculate its position and accurately guide its path. In the meantime, Toyota has recently revealed that they are working on developing their own hover car, although the company has yet to release any further details.

SkyTran Hover Car

The city of Tel Aviv in Israel is already developing its own form of single or two-person transportation which involves levitation technology. The company, SkyTran, has been developing this idea since 1990, and hopes to release the first functional model in 2015. The system is a two-seater pod, suspended from elevated magnetic levitation tracks. Someone requiring transportation will be able to use their smartphone to order a pod like they would a taxi; however, the system’s elevation allows them to bypass all road traffic.

Although very few details of the mechanics behind maglev systems have been released, one can imagine that the increasing absence of motors, gears and fuel will greatly affect the required skills for automotive service technicians around the world. It’s quite possible that the magnetic and computerized systems emerging today may increasingly become the norm in the automotive and transportation industry.

Here’s a look at Volkswagen’s hover car concept:

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