Hoverboards are one of the most popular trends this year.
These futuristic looking devices are shaped somewhat like a sideways skateboard, and move you around with two electrically powered wheels on each side.
Hoverboards are popular because they are very easy to use and have a compact, minimalist design. Size wise, there is just enough space for you to place your foot on each rest.
Unlike most electric methods of transport, there is no bulky or unnecessary equipment.
What makes the hoverboard different from a bike or scooter is that it is self-balancing. You’ll probably notice that there is no steering wheel. Imagine that you were simply standing on a skateboard. What would happen if you started leaning one direction or the other? You’d fall over!
But the hoverboard compensates for this by moving in one direction or the other to keep you balanced.
This “self-balancing” system creates a product that is fun and unique to ride. In a way, it almost feels intuitive. Just lean slightly forward to move forward. Lean slightly to the back to move back. It couldn’t get any simpler!
But how do hoverboards balance themselves? Let’s take a look.
How the Hoverboard Levels Itself
You may have had a toy gyroscope as a kid. Three spinning rings were able to keep your toy completely level in all circumstances. The gyroscope in your hoverboard works in similar principles, but instead of spinning rings it uses three tiny sensors.
These accelerometers in are much simpler than the toy you had as a kid. They simply look like a small box.
Inside of the box is a small mass that is just touching all four walls of its containment. Whenever the device starts to move, the mass will slide in one direction or another and press harder against one side of the box harder.
This pressure can be measured to calculate how fast you are accelerating. The quicker you accelerate, the harder the mass presses against the wall.
This device is stored under the food rests, so your hoverboard is able to tell what “level” is, and will know the moment your board moves away from the level point.
On the opposite side of hoverboard is the logic board. This is essentially the brain of the hoverboard. The gyroscope tells it how the board is moving, but the logic board makes the decision as to how fast each wheel should spin to keep you upright.
How Do the Wheels Work?
If you take a hoverboard apart, you might be surprised to see that there are no electric motors. In fact, there are motors, they’re just hidden very well! The motors that move the board around are actually stored inside the wheels themselves.
If you were to take the wheel apart, you’d see dozens of little copper coils going around the inside of the wheel, and two rows of magnets on the outside. This is called a brushed motor, and is very commonly used in motorized equipment.
Ever notice how magnets will pull towards each other? This motor works in the same way. When the coils are energized, they have a magnetic field. When you first start to move, the coils will have a positive charge.
They’ll immediately start to pull towards the magnets on the left, rotating a fraction of an inch. But the second they get close to that magnet the current will flip, pulling them towards a magnet a little further.
This is a bit like dangling a carrot in front of a donkey. Because the electric charge is currently changing, the coils are always pulling towards a magnet that is just out of their reach.
They are never able to catch it, so they will just continue to rotate faster and faster until the logic board gives them different instructions.
This design means that the speed of your board can carefully be controlled simply by making small tweaks to the electric current. This is why your hoverboard can control the speed so carefully.
How Do Hoverboards Turn?
Most of the hoverboards movement is determined through advanced sensors and precise mathematical calculations. So it might be surprising to learn that turning is actually an incredible simple process.
In fact, not one single component is dedicated to turning the board. Notice that the hoverboard appears to be split in the middle. Your feet can be leaning at different angles.
Remember how the further you leaned forward the faster the board would go? Well, this is determined individually on each wheel. If you push your left foot forward more than the right, the left wheel will turn at a higher rate.
Because it is travelling further each second than the right wheel, it will start to pull ahead, causing the board to rotate.
Simplicity Is Key
This may seem a little complicated at first, but really the whole system is based on one simple principle: if the board isn’t level, move in that direction until it is level again.
Even though this is a complex problem, there are really only four simple components needed for it to work.
This simplicity is what has made the latest generation of hoverboards so reliable. When there is only four devices that each serve a single purpose, those components are less likely to wear out or break very quickly.