The makers of a hoverboard have a new plan to make your house hover in an earthquake

Jill Avery Henderson and Greg Henderson Arx PaxArx PaxJill Avery Henderson and Greg Henderson, co-founders of Arx Pax

Imagine if an earthquake hit, but before its tremors started shaking the buildings, the structures suddenly begin hovering, no longer touching the ground.

For Greg Henderson, that’s the vision of the future.

His startup, Arx Pax, wants to use the same magnetic field architecture incorporated into its Hendo Hoverboard, but apply it on a much larger scale.

Arx Pax uses magnets to create a field when energised similar to how MagLev trains float on a cushion of air, eliminating the friction involved in plain old steel wheel-and-track trains and allowing them to travel at super-fast speeds.

“The hard part is figuring out how to hover something,” Henderson said in an interview with Business Insider. “If you don’t have to touch the ground, what’s possible?”

To make sure the buildings hover in time for an earthquake’s arrival, the California company announced last week that it’s teaming up with an early-warning software system being developed by the US Geological Survey, called ShakeAlert.

The ShakeAlert system is what gave BART, San Francisco’s transit network, a 10-second warning that an earthquake was approaching as a magnitude 6.0 quake hit Napa in August 2014.

It’s not limited to the West Coast, either. With the rise of fracking, the country has already seen 430 magnitude 3 and above earthquakes in the central US this year, according to the USGS.

USGS earthquakesUSGSThe U.S. has already seen 430 magnitude 3+ earthquakes in the central part of the country in 2015.

By partnering with an early warning system, Henderson aims to pinpoint the exact time a building’s “landing gear” should retract and the hovering engines should engage.

The vision for Arx Pax’s system, though, remains very much in alpha.

The startup has a patent for a three-tier foundation system that involves floating a platform over a liquid. That way, they could easily see it react to small movements, from floods to rising sea levels and earthquakes.

Arx Pax three tier foundationArx PaxAn image from Arx Pax’s patent showing the three-tiered foundation system.

Of course, there’s no way we’re all going to be building houses over water any time soon.

Henderson claims that the new version of his technology — the one that incorporates ShakeAlert — is the high-tech model of its patented system, although the hovering only protects against earthquakes.

In this model, the magnetic field would essentially replace the liquid. Instead of building large water-filled bases and foundations, Arx Pax’s new vision would require installation of the hover engines and an earthquake-proof base.

“When we receive warning of an earthquake, the computer turns on the hover engines,” Henderson explained. “All of that happens at the speed of light.”

Hendo Hoverboard 7Arx PaxHendo Hoverboard

To hover a three-story house for the average earthquake length of 90 seconds, it would use the energy of five car batteries, or cost around $US13 using PG&E’s rates, Henderson calculated. That doesn’t mean installing a house hover-er will come cheap. There is no definitive cost for the project yet since it’s in development, but the price tag just for the hoverboard on Kickstarter was $US10,000.

None of the house hovering mechanisms have been installed yet, and it’s likely the team will start smaller with objects like art or sensitive lab equipment that needs to remain steady in the case of trembles.&

“If you want to separate something from the Earth,” Henderson said, “this is the most efficient away.”

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