Nearly all designers have boundaries within which they have to work. Whether it’s a specification from a client, or even the cost fallout of using more hard-to-find materials, the difference between concept and finalised product will occasionally be vast.
Digging a little deeper, one set of archetypes that simply cannot be worked around is the laws of physics. Particularly, friction. At least, that was the case until experiments with the polarisation of magnets opened up a new world for engineers and designers alike.
As has been well noted, maglev technology has risen to prominence in Asia Pacific, with Japan’s train infrastructure using the technology widely.
How does it work?
Research published by Springer suggested that maglev technology is essentially dependent on electricity. Using a train infrastructure as an example, and in the simplest of terms, voltage is applied to the magnetic field created by magnets attached to both the tracks and the underside of the carriages.
A little more on maglev trains, and how they’re being used in Japan, can be seen in this video:
While there can be little denying that maglev technology has practical applications in the here and now, where it might be in the future will be most interesting to product designers and manufacturers.
The design showcase offers a glimpse of how maglev technology could soon be accessible.
One of the biggest barriers stopping its use becoming more widespread is cost.
However, another Asia-Pacific company is trying to bring the technology into the commercial space. Lexus, best known for its luxury cars, has been experimenting with maglev systems for some time and the company unveiled the fruits of its labour in the form of a hoverboard.
Those familiar with the Back To The Future movies will no doubt be thinking they can emulate Marty McFly, but the design showcase offers more than a glimpse of how maglev technology could soon be freely accessible to both designers and the wider public.
Nothing is impossible
As Lexus Chief Engineer Haruhiko Tanahashi outlined in the above video, no design feat is impossible, it’s just a case of figuring out how. Simply, the end product put forward by Lexus in working prototype form is the result of a huge amount of technological and design innovation.
The car company worked with both IFW Dresden as well as magnetics specialist Evico on the project, according to Dezeen.
Ultimately, the hoverboard is built around an insulated core, which contains high temperature super conducting blocks. These have to be housed in reservoirs of liquid nitrogen, which itself is stored at minus 197 degrees Celcius.
This is where there’s a slight caveat. The video may seem like the board is hovering and being ridden around a conventional skate park. However, it is in fact a modified facility in Barcelona. There are magnets under the concrete, which allow the device to float.
The board itself has been heavily engineered so that is equally striking and usable. Departing somewhat from the traditional skateboard designs (mainly because it has no wheels!), Lexus has created a product that encapsulates its own high-end material and technology principles.
— Design Week (@Design_Week) August 6, 2015
One of the greatest things about the hoverboard is that it is the perfect blend of design and technology. Not only does it use futuristic practices to actually make it work, its designers had a blank slate to create something that’s truly one of a kind.
While the Lexus design is certainly a striking technical exercise, designers and engineers will now be looking to incorporate its principles into their own work. The main thing to consider here is friction, or a lack of it.
Limiting friction across the design process has the potential to affect a plethora of sectors.
As touched on, one of the stumbling blocks that product designers face is the limitations of the world of around them. In this case, those laws have been changed slightly. While it’s still early days, limiting friction has the potential to affect a plethora of sectors.
Everything from the automotive, aerospace and consumer technology industries could expand their boundaries and have a new way to think.
Wired dug a little deeper into the science behind the Lexus project, and found that it is only usable on a predetermined path as things stand.
However, there can be little denying that maglev technology could be a huge development. While it has long been considered futuristic and out of reach, Lexus may have started the wider design world on a journey that ends with maglev systems becoming widespread.
As things stand, Lexus has no plans to push the hoverboard into production. However, if advances in the technology continue, we may not be too far from a world where designing and manufacturing products outside the bounds of friction becomes the norm.
Designing or manufacturing in Asia Pacific? Contact us at SOLIDWORKS to see how we can help inspire engineering innovation and improve every aspect of your product development.