Last October, we rode a hoverboard. No, not the hoverboard you saw Lexus create last month for a brand activation, but one made by a little company called Arx Pax. It hovered thanks to "Magnetic Field Architecture" (MFA), a fancy name for what the company's founder, Greg Henderson, says is equally fancy (and soon-to-be officially patented) technology. Now he's looking to apply that technology to something more practical, but just as cool: microsatellites.
Arx Pax is partnering up with NASA to explore how its technology could be used to move around tiny satellites in space using the MFA technology. It could allow satellites to more safely dock with each other, for example.
"Conveniently all satellites and spacecraft are made of aluminum, which works just fine."
Henderson explains that his hover engine technology works with any conductive surface — which is to say it doesn't have to float over magnets nor utilize superconductors (like the Lexus hoverboard does). The Hendo hoverboard his company created floated on a bed of copper. "So there are some limitations," Henderson admits, "but conveniently all satellites and spacecraft are made of aluminum, which works just fine." Speaking of convenience, sound doesn't travel in a vacuum. When we checked out the Hendo hoverboard, it made a hellaciously loud whine. In space, that's probably not a problem.
The hover engine essentially creates "swirls of electricity" that form magnetic fields both within the hover engine and the conductive surface. By manipulating those fields, the hover engine can cause repulsion or attraction — it can make something hover. But in space, of course, the concept of "hovering" doesn't really apply. Instead, Arx Pax believes that using its tech to move around tiny objects in space will mean that they won't have to smack into each other when they need to pair up.
Arx Pax plans to co-develop a prototype with NASA over the course of the next couple of years — and chances are it will be pretty small. Cubesats can be as little as 10cm square, and the hover engine also isn't meant to work over large distances either. "We're talking on the scale of centimeters," Henderson notes. But in space, smaller pushes can have larger effects over time than they do under gravity.
Arx Pax may have a humble offices in Los Gatos, but it doesn't have humble ambitions. "On a pound for pound basis," Henderson claims, "there's no better way to levitate something than our engine." Henderson says that his company will be receiving an official patent on the hover engine very soon, and he hopes to use it to do some of the work that his engine was originally designed for: protecting buildings against earthquakes and floods.
Here's the video we shot of the original Hendo hoverboard.