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    We Were Promised Hoverboards: A Chat with Robert Haleluk

    Written by

    Emily Wasik

    Photo via Flickr / CC. 

    We were promised hoverboards by June 2015 in Back to the Future II. That means science has less than two years to figure its shit out. But we haven’t run out of time, at least not yet. Robert Haleluk, project manager at Haltek Industries, is asking for $1 million on Indiegogo to turn his dream into a reality and create a working Hoverboard by the summer of 2015.

    Now before all you naysayers out there call it a long shot and scoff away, remember that at one point in history it was also crazy to have a carriage that drove without a horse, to drive robot rovers on Mars, see your dyslexic labrador back in Australia on Skype, or print a foot for an injured duck on a 3D printer. This is the future, remember?

    The technology needed to make the hoverboard actually already exists. The problem is that it’s cost prohibitive. Chris Malloy's prototype hoverbike uses omni-direction tubeaxial blowers to gain vertical lift, and IBM's lithium air batteries, which create energy from drawing in oxygen, are both light and powerful enough to provide a power source. The proposed hoverboard, constructed from a honeycomb carbon fiber, would even have its own smartphone app with the ability to turn it on and off, lock and unlock it, and run diagnostics.

    But $1 million? Really? Although it may sound like a request of Dr. Evil proportions, one followed by manic laughter and Mr. Bigglesworth stroking, the funds will be put toward research and to launch an online development center, housing all of the data collected and prototypes tested and opening the door for the best and the brightest to contribute ideas.

    I caught up with Haleluk, who is also the brains behind "the dipr - a spoon for dunking sandwich cookies", to get his insights on the project.

    MOTHERBOARD: When did you have the light bulb moment to bring everybody’s hoverboard fantasy into fruition?

    Robert Halulek: As a kid, I grew up watching all the Back to the Future movies and I really believed one day I would get to ride a hoverboard. About a year ago, I was watching the movie again on TV and I said to myself, "Why doesn't this exist yet?" I set out to do research and started talking to a few defense contractors and engineers about what would be feasible. I purchased an AR Drone and started building prototypes of a skateboard that could fly. After about a year's worth of homework, I'm confident that it's possible.

    Why the transition from creating spoons for dunking sandwich cookies to hoverboards? If you look up "180 degree paradox” in the dictionary, I’m pretty sure a picture of cookie-dunking spoons vs. hoverboards is there.

    (Laughs). That is very true. It might look like it started with "the dipr", but it really goes much further back than that. When I was boy, I was really into Lego and Erector Sets. My mother submitted pictures of my creations to Lego Magazine and one of them actually got published. At the age of 20, I turned my own 2004 Audi A4 into a custom show car and traveled the country with one of the most elite car clubs in the world. The car was featured on numerous magazine covers and sponsored by some of the best companies in the industry. My team and I were the first people to build a complete custom turbo kit for the Audi with a 1.8L motor and to engineered all the tubular manifolds from scratch. Even then people said it wasn't possible and we proved them wrong.

    When the automotive industry fell apart on me, I moved into my next passion: design. I started by getting into web design, then app design, but ultimately found my way to product design - where I felt like the little boy playing with Lego again. The dipr was my first stab at a product. I came up with that idea when I lost one too many Oreos in my milk, so I set out to create a spoon to hold the Oreo so I wouldn't have to stick my fingers in the milk or risk losing my cookies.

    Even then people said it wasn't possible and we proved them wrong.

    You said on the Indiegogo site that this project is really about funding the beginning of a world with hoverboards. What do you foresee a world of hoverboards being like?

    I think a world with hoverboards would be awesome, and honestly, I don't think we're that far off. Military jets can hover and take off or land vertically. Helicopters can hover and now we even have a motorcycle that can hover. It's only a matter of time before the technology is available so we can put it into a smaller hoverboard.

    You also mentioned that you weren’t the first to try something like this, as a few companies have been developing similar technology using the motorcycle platform. What have you taken away from these other developments?

    To be honest, I didn't learn as much from watching the hover-bike project as I did from looking at the defense industry. In the defense industry, contractors have been challenging themselves to come up with ways to produce new types of propulsion engines and power sources that can take us into the 21st century. If you look at some of the new technology that NASA or Lockheed Martin produces, it's truly mind-blowing and it all started with a scientist or engineer that believed he could do it.

    What have you learned not to do?

    [To not] listen to the haters or naysayers. These are the same people that complain that their cell phone doesn't have a built in toaster-oven, yet they choose to forget how amazing it is that they're holding a device with more computing power than the space shuttle that landed two astronauts on the moon. We've gone from wired phones to wireless devices with cameras and apps that can do just about anything in less than 25 years. But of course, they take it for granted and it's not good enough.

    You said the hoverboards will be customized for fun or tailored to meet the needs of any industry. Who, in terms of industry, location or age demographic, do you think will benefit from the hoverboard creation the most?

    I can see the hoverboard being used by the younger generation to do tricks just like a skateboard, but even cooler because it can fly! I can also see the defense industry using a hoverboard for the military and our troops using it to get around or to carry heavy loads through rough terrain. Even regular people can use it to commute, just like a Segway or a bicycle. I live in Manhattan and I would love to have a hoverboard so I can zip around and literally fly through the streets.

    What message do you have for all the doubting Thomases out there that say it's too far-fetched?

    History has told us that some of the best and brightest people in the world had to defy the rules to give us the technology that we take for granted today. I look at all those great people for inspiration: Einstein, Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, The Wright Brothers, Ben Franklin, Leonardo Da Vinci, Nikola Tesla, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and even Warren Buffet. Each of these people all defied the rules and never listened to the people who told them they were crazy – or else they would’ve never amounted to anything.

    If your team masters this, where do you foresee this technology going in the future? Flying cars? Houses in the sky Hayao Miyazaki style?

    I hope we master this! I can see this being the beginning of whole new world. We're already on the verge of flying cars and personal flying vehicles as there are a few companies working on this as we speak. I just hope society accepts this type of technology and allows it to become the "norm". Only time will tell.

    History has told us that some of the best and brightest people in the world had to defy the rules to give us the technology that we take for granted today.

    Do you think if Marty McFly travelled to real life 2015, he'd be disappointed by how things have progressed? I mean, we DO have the super spunky iPhone and the Internet of Things, but no flying cars.

    I don't think Marty would be disappointed. After all, he did come from the 80's and just look back at what was considered "cool" during that time. The big hair, clashing colors and computer technology was pretty bad. I don't think anyone is proud of those days! I think Marty would be somewhat impressed with our technology, obviously everyone isn't driving a flying car yet, but hopefully we'll have a hoverboard for him to hop on by then.

    What do you think Michael J. Fox would think of your project?

    I would love to hear what Michael J. Fox thinks about our project! I hope he's impressed with the fact that we're even trying something like this. If it wasn't for him and Back to the Future, we wouldn't be doing this. So I hope it makes him proud because he's just as much a part of this as we are. I would be honored to give him the first real working hoverboard