When Marty McFly travelled to 2015 in Back to the Future Part II, his trusty old skateboard had been replaced by a hoverboard. Now, I don’t ask for much in life, but we’re now two years overdue, and I want my damn hoverboard.
While I wait for it to be delivered, here’s a rundown of some of the coolest current tech that’s coming close to reaching sci-fi standards.
1. Segway PT
Okay, okay, so arguably the Segway isn’t exactly current or cool (can you believe it was launched over 15 years ago?), but it is undeniably the precursor to most of the personal transportation devices that can be seen rolling around our streets today.
Futuristic, electrically-powered and surprisingly easy to master, the Segway scooter was, for a time, seen as the beginning of a transport revolution – even the Chinese army was seen training with them in 2008. It might seem crazy now, but it does actually make sense: Segways can fit through tight spaces (like doorways), and reach around 12mph, making them far more efficient than walking. They may not have taken off commercially, but the Segway is still a popular choice for all kinds of security personnel around the world, being particularly effective in airports, theme parks and open spaces.
The biggest drawbacks of the Segway are its price (you’re looking at a good £5,500 to own one for yourself), its weight (nobody wants to lug 23.5kg up a flight of stairs), and the fact that our city infrastructure simply isn’t designed to cope with them. The design is too bulky for the bike lane and too fast for the pavement.
Boy, are they fun though. If you haven’t tried one yet then you definitely need to book yourself for a rental or a ride based on where you are located. I’d strongly recommend taking an off-road course on one of the x2 models, available through adventure specialists, Into the Blue.
I refuse to call this piece of tech by its more popular name, because, spoiler: IT DOESN’T ACTUALLY HOVER. The Swegway was 2015’s biggest social media success story, with bloggers and vloggers going out of their minds for the boards, and the general public following suit. If it hadn’t have been for the teeny, tiny problem of the boards CATCHING FIRE, maybe we’d be seeing a lot more of them around today.
Current boards are built to meet much higher safety standards, and the industry is working hard to restore the Swegway’s reputation. The boards are comparatively inexpensive (about £250), light – around 10kg – and can travel at 9mph for six hours, making them much more accessible than a Segway. Still, the majority of consumers will probably be uncomfortable because of the lack of handlebars will probably frighten the majority of consumers away from this kind of transport.
3. Ninebot by Segway miniPro
Our next gadget falls squarely between the last two: It won’t make you look cool, but it also won’t blow up in your home. The miniPro is like a Swegway with a half-handle, or a Segway with a half-handle… Am I making any sense? Rather than the bulky design of a full Segway PT, the miniPro is steered by the rider’s knees (and bodyweight), offering more balance than a hoverboard by at least providing something to lean against.
You may balk at the price tag (£1000ish), but your money is really buying you safety, as the miniPro was specifically designed to address the low manufacturing standards of other personal transportation devices (it’s even UL certified). Weighing only 13kg, it’s much more portable than the traditional design, and it also comes with a touch sensor handle so you can easily wheel it alongside you like a suitcase (although I’d rather ride it – why wouldn’t you be riding it)?
You’re still going to be limited by city infrastructure (it surely won’t be long until all gyroscopic transportation is banned from our streets), but the streamlined design makes them much less of an issue that sharing the pavement with a full Segway PT. Even if we never see swarms of them on busy city sidewalks, the miniPro offers a clean and efficient way to get around parks, campuses and other large, open areas.
Two wheels is so like, yesterday.
That’s probably what the designers of the Solowheel were telling themselves when they came up with sketches for their personal transportation. If you haven’t seen one, the Solowheel is pretty much exactly what it sounds like; a single wheel, with foot platforms on either side. Depending on the exact model, it’s just shy of 50cm tall, reaches a top speed of 10mph and weighs 15.5kg, give or take.
This makes it pretty portable (especially as newer designs have included a handle), and an option worth considering if you’re getting sick of your cross-city commute. Well, as long as you don’t mind looking like an idiot. I know I’ll be eating my words once these things take over the world, but I’ve seen a handful of guys (and it is always guys) zipping around the morning streets of my home city, wearing a suit and a smug face, and I find them insufferable. To me, a ride with only one wheel will forever belong at the circus, and at least one person agrees with me.
I wouldn’t blame you if you’ve been reading down this list thinking that every one of these designs is ridiculous – but now it’s time to get serious. The Aero-X is dubbed by its designers as an “aerial all-terrain vehicle”. I prefer to think of it as a “no terrain” vehicle.
Are you about to witness something that actually hovers?
Due to start production this year, the Aero-X is an honest-to-god hovercraft, straight out of Star Wars. Two passengers sit astride the saddle, like a motorbike, while two massive carbon-fibre fans give it lift. It runs on petrol, reaches a top speed of 45mph and reaches up to 12 feet above the surface – be it ground or water. For those of you paying attention, this means that us mere Earthlings are finally ready to compete with the transport options in ANOTHER GALAXY, FAR, FAR AWAY.
The Aerofex website suggests “applications” for the Aero-X like agriculture, search and rescue and maintenance, allowing riders to spray crops or inspect pipelines over huge distances (yawn). Let’s be real – as soon as I’ve got enough cash (about $85,000) to snag one of these babies, I’m going straight out to the nearest field, desert or lake and having me some fun, pod-racer style.