The Future is Hovering

Videos of hover boards have been hot on YouTube. Videos of a superconductor-powered one built by engineers from automaker Lexus were social-media gold last year. But if you gorged on hover board videos, you likely also saw the Hendo hover board, which is powered by a very different technology: electromagnetism.

Hendo is a subsidiary of Arx Pax, a technology company now in its third year. Arx Pax uses its trademarked Magnetic Field Architecture (MFA) to power the hover engines that levitate the board above a conductive surface.

The technology applies to far more than just tooling around on a floating skateboard, though. The Hendo brand was spun off from Arx Pax to focus specifically on the recreational aspects of the technology, said Randi (Paikoff) Feigin ’89, president of Arx Pax.

Arx Pax hired Feigin as chief commercial and investment offcer in February 2015 when the company was looking for employees who could help the business grow. A finance major during her years at IC, she had worked in equity research for Morgan Stanley and investor relations for Cisco Systems. Little more than a year after being hired, Feigin has become well versed in Arx Pax’s technology.

“The original purpose and vision of the company was to protect buildings, properties, and people from earthquakes,” she said.

Imagine something as small as a wine barrel or as large as a house equipped with hover engines and propped up by support legs. Thanks to early warning indicators provided by ShakeAlert, an experimental tremor-detection system developed by the U.S. Geologic Survey that Arx Pax is tapped into, the hover engines would kick on and the legs would retract whenever tremors were detected.

“The thing that you’re trying to protect from the earthquake actually never moves; you don’t physically lift it,” Feigin explained. Once the quake subsides, the legs return to position and the hover engines shut off. Applications like this are scalable and could perhaps someday protect an entire skyscraper.

The possibilities for Arx Pax’s technology extend into industrial automation and manufacturing, as well. After the company raised double its goal on Kickstarter, an online global crowd-funding platform, it started to get a ton of interest across industries. Car companies, theme park companies, toy companies, airplane manufacturers, and real-estate developers became interested in how this new technology could change the way they do business. This has led to business agreements between Arx Pax and several of these companies, Feigin said, including a collaboration agreement with NASA. The space agency wants to use MFA technology to manipulate small satellites in space through “magnetic tethering,” though Feigin jokes that the popular press referenced the common sci-fi notion of a “tractor beam.”

Transportation is another exciting possibility for MFA technology, Feigin said. In fact, this past January the tech was incorporated into the Hyperloop Pod Competition sponsored by Elon Musk’s SpaceX company. The competition, held at Texas A&M University, was a way to get engineers and academics to help design functional ideas for Musk’s proposed “hyperloop” transportation network, in which pods meant to carry people and goods rocket through tubes, theoretically at hundreds of miles per hour. Competitors were able to leverage the Arx Pax hover engines in their designs if they so chose.

Feigin believes MFA has the potential to change society’s technological landscape indefinitely, much like the transistor did. While Arx Pax focuses on improving the technology, Feigin’s mission is to help connect the start-up with companies and industries that will discover further practical uses for it.

"We’re working on the core technology and the [intellectual property], and leveraging partners and systems-integrators to include our technology as a component in broader solutions,” she said.