6 Hover Vehicles That Are Closer Than You Think

Back to the Future Part 2 Hoverboard
Source: Amblin Entertainment / Universal Pictures

Ever since humans invented the first mobile machines, it seems that they have been dreaming of how to make those machines hover. And while consumers have an impressive variety of vehicles to choose from today, there is a depressing lack of hovering ability among current transportation options. Fortunately, there are several forward-looking companies and individual inventors that are currently working on making humanity’s dreams of commercially available hover vehicles a reality.

The hover vehicle projects highlighted on this list are in varying stages of development, from pure concepts to early prototypes. However, all of the technologies employed by these hover vehicles appear to be feasible if given enough funding and research. From hover cars to hover skateboards, here are six hover vehicles that have a decent chance of becoming available to consumers in the years to come.

1. Terrafugia TF-X

Massachusetts-based firm Terrafugia is currently developing an electric hybrid vehicle that will be able to drive like a conventional car, but also takeoff vertically and fly. While the propellers that lift this flying car eventually fold up when it enters flight mode, the nifty vertical takeoff and landing capabilities of the TF-X definitely qualify it as a hover vehicle.

Perhaps even more impressive than its hovering capabilities is the TF-X’s autonomous navigation system. According to Terrafugia’s website, although a human operator will have the option to fly the TF-X manually, the vehicle will also have an automatic mode that will fly it between approved landing zones. The TF-X will also include many safety features, including the ability to auto-land in case of operator unresponsiveness and a backup full-vehicle parachute system.

Unlike many other flying car concepts, the TF-X is intended for the typical consumer and not just those with a pilot’s license. According to Terrafugia, the TF-X will only take the average driver around five hours of training to learn how to operate it. However, before you put a TF-X on your Christmas wish list, you should note that the company expects development of the vehicle to last eight to 12 years.

2. Volkswagen hover car concept

Volkswagen’s concept hover car was the result of the German company’s People’s Car Project in China in which consumers submitted their ideas about what the car of the future should look like, according to Digital Trends. So while the hover car showcased in Volkswagen’s concept video has yet to be created, this vision of the car of the future may not be as far-fetched as it seems, since it relies on several proven technologies.

Like existing magnetic levitation (maglev) trains, this wheel-shaped vehicle would rely on an electromagnetic track embedded in the road to enable its ability to hover, while a thruster in the back would propel it forward. Although this would require that tracks be installed into roadways, it should be noted that researchers at Stanford have already explored embedding an electrical grid into highways in the U.S. that could also be used to guide and charge autonomous vehicles, as reported by CNET.

Likewise, Google has already demonstrated the feasibility of autonomous vehicles with its self-driving car project. Finally, as reported by The Verge, a Toyota executive announced at Bloomberg’s Next Big Thing Summit in 2014 that the car maker was exploring a similar hover car concept as part of its “most advanced” research and development efforts.

3. The HoverCar by Brent Saxsma

The quest for a hover vehicle isn’t just being undertaken by big companies. Inspired by the flying DeLorean seen in the Back to the Future films, inventor Brent Saxsma is trying to build his own hover car. Just like the flying DeLorean seen in the movie, Saxsma’s HoverCar would feature wheels that rotate inward. However, instead of rocket thrusters, the HoverCar would use embedded duct fans to create lift. According to his official HoverCar website, Saxsma has even applied for a patent for a sophisticated duct fan system that will allow the vehicle to hover.

Although the HoverCar Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign was cancelled last December, it doesn’t appear that Saxsma has given up on his dream of creating a real flying DeLorean. While some skeptics may dismiss Saxsma’s idea as ludicrous simply because it was borrowed from a movie, it should be noted that there are other successful inventors who have been similarly inspired by science fiction films. As previously reported by the Cheat Sheet, the inventor of the mobile phone claimed that he was inspired by the handheld communicators he saw in Star Trek.

Source: Aerofex.com
Source: Aerofex.com

4. Aerofex Aero-X “hover bike”

Who said cars were the only vehicles that could hover? California-based firm Aerofex is developing a hover vehicle called the Aero-X that has been compared to the speeder bikes seen in the Star Wars films. The Aero-X seats two people and can hover up to 12 feet above the ground at speeds of up to 45 miles per hour. Video of an early prototype of the Aero-X can be seen here.

Like the Terrafugia TF-X, the Aero-X has been designed with the average consumer in mind. According to Aerofex, the Aero-X features intuitive controls that respond to an operator’s movements similar to how a motorcycle does. The Aero-X may even be safer than a motorcycle since it will feature a roll bar. Customers will also have the option to have whole vehicle airbags installed.

Before you get too excited about going where roads are not needed, you might want to first check your bank account. According to Aerofex’s website, the estimated price of the Aero-X will be $85,000. The first deliveries are expected to commence in 2017 and interested customers can already reserve an Aero-X with a $5,000 refundable deposit.

5. Hendo Hoverboard

A flying DeLorean is not the only technology seen in the Back to the Future films that has inspired inventors. Greg Henderson – founder of Hendo Hover and its parent company Arx Pax – has created the Hendo Hoverboard, a hovering skateboard that resembles the one featured in Back to the Future Part II. Last year the company received more than twice the $250,000 it was seeking in a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign to bring this device to the masses.

Like maglev trains, the Hendo Hoverboard uses opposing magnetic fields to enable its ability to levitate, so the device only works on certain metal-covered surfaces. As seen in the demonstration video above, the Hendo Hoverboard also appears to be difficult to control. However, as noted on the company’s website, Hendo Hover is continuing to refine the capabilities of its device. According to Hendo’s Kickstarter page, the Hendo Hoverboard can be yours for $10,000 when the first production models are delivered on October 21, 2015.

While the Hendo Hoverboard has garnered Arx Pax the most attention, inventor Greg Henderson has even bigger dreams for his hovering technology. As noted on Hendo Hover’s website, Henderson envisions using a similar technology to enable buildings to hover to protect them from damage during earthquakes or floods.

6. skyTran Personal Rapid Transit

While maglev trains are already in use in some parts of the world, the skyTran elevated Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) system puts a novel twist on maglev technology.  Like existing maglev trains, the skyTran system uses opposing magnetic fields to suspend the vehicle off of the track. However, as its name suggests, the skyTran would levitate off a magnetic track that is high above the ground. Additionally, unlike maglev train cars, skyTran pods are positioned below the track. By eliminating physical contact between the vehicle and the track, the skyTran can achieve faster speeds with less energy.

Last year, the company announced that it has plans to install a skyTran Technology Demonstration System (TDS) on the grounds of the Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) before deploying a full commercial system in Tel Aviv. According to the BBC, the demonstration system should be completed by the end of 2015, while construction of the commercial system is projected to begin in the fourth quarter of 2016, according to skyTran. Unlike many of the hover vehicles featured on this list, the skyTran will not cost users an arm and a leg in order to experience it. Per skyTran, tickets for the proposed Tel Aviv system are expected to cost around $5.

Follow Nathanael on Twitter @ArnoldEtan_WSCS