Tony Hawk pulling a “360 Hoverboard Hoax McTwist” for the well-produced, but ultimately phony, HUVr product teaser.
Screenshot by Nick Statt/CNET)
A hoverboard, like the wondrously 1980s pink variety Marty McFly cruises on in “Back to the Future Part II,” is universally accepted as the most awesome thing we don’t yet have. The wheel-less skateboard that floats above the ground and travels as if by magic has even become a bit of a pop culture trope recently for semi-sarcastically lamenting the slowness of technological innovation, of wanting the future right now. Sure, we have cell phone computers,
car-sized roving science labs on Mars, and gigantic particle accelerators capable of recreating miniature versions of the Big Bang, but a hoverboard? Now that will be the day.
Unfortunately, anyone who stumbled onto a quickly-going-viral video Tuesday from a mysterious company called HUVr were probably devastatingly disappointed to learn, almost immediately depending on your incredulousness, that it was too good to be true. The hoverboards in the video don’t just surpass the most advanced superconducting research of as little as three years ago, but blow it completely out of the water.
The board not only sustains more weight than the 100kg limitation of “Mag Surf” — a hovering technique developed in 2011 that employs a liquid nitrogen-cooled superconductor and a magnetic track — but it can also be controlled by a smartphone, lift a person off the ground, travel at high speeds, and seemingly extend a electromagnetic field to curved objects like ramps. “The Future Has Arrived,” the company’s site reads, with a product launch this December. As far as hoaxes go, this one is well-produced and elaborate.
In an attempt to make it even more believable, demonstrations include Tony Hawk whirring in mid-air, Terrell Owens being vaulted four feet off the pavement from a flat-ground standstill, and Moby convincing us that even he, the tech noob that he is, can use HUVr.
There’s a good number of tip-offs throughout the video that we’re being hoodwinked, namely that ensemble cast of awestruck celebrities that also includes Los Angeles rapper Schoolboy Q, Best Coast’s Bethany Cosentino, and Back to the Future’s very own Dr. Emmett Brown (Christopher Lloyd). In fact, it’s likely that a good number of celebrities were roped into the stunt both because it’s hilarious and also because it acts as a solid point of distraction from the fact that no actual members of the supposedly real MIT-spawned company are identified.
Claiming to have developed it at MIT’s Physics Graduate Program in the summer of 2010, the team behind HUVr is showcased on the Web site stereotypically folding their arms. In an enjoyable and pointed skewering of a startup’s standard hyperbolic nonsense, they describe their hoverboard with enough buzzword runarounds to make even the most skeptical of Y Combinator diehards clap with joy.
They also look like Hollywood’s version of “nerdy startup folk,” like the people whose faces it actually put in front of the camera at Google headquarters for the filming of “The Internship” or the actors that made the cut to be in Amazon’s “Betas.”
This group of arm-folding smart people totally could have invented a hoverboard, Los Angeles producers think.
Screenshot by Nick Statt/CNET)
The contact page for HUVr has a company e-mail, though no one replied to my request for comment. Neither did MIT, which probably thought having to debunk a viral hoverboard hoax video ridiculous. Don’t worry, so did I.
There’s a few other, more telling hints. Ignoring of course the video’s opening disclaimer — “The following demonstrations are completely real” — one only has to wait until the last third of the video when things get really wild. With montage music playing, Owens is there catching a football, Moby is filming himself riding the board with his iPhone, and Hawk is doing his best re-creation of what his facial expressions looked like ten years ago at the peak of a halfpipe exit mid-900. All of the stunts look impossible, even if HUVr was remotely resembling modern hover technology, and the whole scene devolves into a self-aware parody.
Terrell Owens just invented a new sport.
Screenshot by Nick Statt)
So what’s actually going on here? Some postulate that it’s a “Back to the Future IV” teaser. That sounds plausible, though that film has never been officially announced, having been endlessly wrapped up in debunked rumors for years. However, with Lloyd’s involvement in the video, alongside the DeLorean he arrives in, there’s a chance a viral marketing operation of this magnitude really is proof the long-awaited film is on its way to production.
There’s another point of film history that also lends credence to the fact that this might be related to an official announcement of the fourth installment. Let’s recall that the Back to the Future series’ director Robert Zemeckis perpetuated a hoax after the release of the second film, claiming in a behind-the-scenes feature that hoverboards were real and not available to the public because of safety concerns. He kept that up, making sure it was featured in the “extras” section of the trilogy DVD box set.
Whatever the purpose of this, Internet debunkers were quick to suss out the source of the video’s production. On the online portfolio site of Lauren Biedenharn — a costume designer and an artist based in Los Angeles where, as well as being the home of Hawk, Schoolboy Q, and Consentino, the video was shot — the most recent line of her resume reads, “Commercial: Back to the Future HUVR BOARDS.” Her employer and the producer of said commercial: comedy video Web site Funny Or Die.
And so it goes. Another day, another wasted 24 hours without real hoverboard technology. Let’s hope that “Back to the Future IV” is the real deal, so that the time exhausted on HUVr at least results in a much-needed Dr. Emmett Brown reprising.
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