Vac to the future

We’ve all seen ‘Back to the Future’ and looked forward to the day that we might, like Michael J Fox, experience the thrilling sensation of flight on a hoverboard.

Well, Kevin Inkster, inventor and chief ideas man at Australia’s Arbortech Pty Ltd went home after seeing the film and came up with a design that has put a generation of futuristic childhood dreams firmly into the present.

First seen by the world floating into the Sydney Olympics opening ceremony, the space age looking Airboard 2000 has a fibre glass/high-impact plastic shell built around an aluminium frame with an attached rubber skirt. It is about 1.6 metres in diameter and weighs less than 85 kilograms.

Using the principles of a hovercraft it rides a cushion of air to glide just above the ground.

The air cushion is generated from a purpose designed petrol engine and fan which are suspended below the Airboard shell. The fan also provides a fast stream of air exiting from the rear of the craft to provide better forward thrust.

To help better acceleration it has a friction drive wheel at the rear. When the rider wishes to accelerate forward, weight transfer is used to bring the friction drive into contact with the ground. By engaging the friction drive clutch, the Airboard can be accelerated forward without losing the feel of hovering above the ground, claim Arbortech.

It can travel up to speeds of 25 km/h but because it is used on flat ground, speed is limited by the wind resistance that the rider and board present compared to the combined air and friction wheel thrust.

Handlebars and two levers provide control of the Airboard – one for the engine/fan speed and the second for the friction drive clutch. In addition, the rider uses weight transfer to steer the board left and right – just like a skateboard or a snowboard. Varying the degree of transfer onto friction devices used for stopping and steering, the board responds in different ways- sharp or slow turns, fast 360 degree turns and sliding turns are all possible, profess the makers.

The engine is a Briggs & Stratton 4-stroke, which runs on 85 octane unleaded petrol, with a full tank of 5 litres enough for an hour’s hovering, say the manufactures. The craft is designed to drift over up to 40mm of upward obstacle (such as a stone) and handle gradients of up to 5%.

Concerned family and friends of thrill seekers need not worry about safety, argue Arbortech. The Airboard’s centre of gravity is so low it is virtually impossible to tip over. Moreover, if recommended practices (including a list of detritus, such as sticks, leaves and litter, which the Airboard should not traverse) be adhered to, and a helmet and goggles donned, then the rider should not come to grief. In a worst case scenario, careering out of control towards a crowd of onlookers, releasing the controls automatically brings the machine to sliding halt within a few metres.

So how will the Airboard be received? Executive Chairman of Arbortech, Kevin Inkster, sees its future as a theme park attraction and is expecting Airboard rides to be installed at fun fairs in the near future: ‘This is a totally new and exciting kind of vehicle developed for all skill levels and I can see a new sport coming out of it’ he said.