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New Technology Claims It Can “Hover” Buildings Before Earthquakes

The new earthquake technology aims to make your house an anti-shake shack.

New Technology Claims It Can “Hover” Buildings Before Earthquakes
[Photo: Flickr user Archives New Zealand]

The creator of a real-life hoverboard thinks it has a way to keep the contents of buildings, or even the buildings themselves, from moving during a major earthquake.

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Los Gatos, California-based Arx Pax, which raised more than $500,000 on Kickstarter for its Hendo Hoverboard, said today it has developed a way to effectively hover a building above the ground during an earthquake using electromagnetic fields, keeping it and what’s inside from sliding around during the destructive shaking.

Arx Pax CEO Greg Henderson said the company developed a method to combine the U.S. Geological Survey’s ShakeAlert system–which is said to be able to sense an earthquake’s seismic waves several seconds before the shaking begins–with the company’s magnetic-field architecture (MFA) and its three-part building foundation system.

In effect, Henderson said, the integration means that in an earthquake, a building with an Arx Pax foundation and a ShakeAlert system could automatically “de-couple” itself from the ground for the duration of the shaking. “One second [of warning] is all we need for our hover system,” Henderson said.

A drawing that explains how Arx Pax’s three-part foundation functionsImage: US 8777519 B1

The patented foundation system is essentially the company’s hoverboard technology on steroids. The hoverboard incorporates four round engines below the board, creating a magnetic field that lets it hover an inch above a copper surface. The MFA technology works much the same way, but on a bigger scale, Henderson suggested.

According to Arx Pax’s patent for the three-part foundation, buildings with the system have a “containment vessel” that is meant to keep everything above it in place during the lateral movements of an earthquake.

Hendo HoverboardPhoto: courtesy of Arx Pax

Henderson said that the system could be applied to an existing building if its foundation is significantly retrofitted. But he admitted that it would be preferable to include it in all-new construction. He also said that no one has yet integrated Arx Pax’s system in buildings of any kind. “We’re looking for that forward-thinking partner,” he said, “who wants to build more safely.”

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There are current anti-shaking technologies, known as “base isolation” systems, that are designed to dramatically slow a building’s movement in an earthquake. But Henderson argued that those systems are expensive and don’t stop the shaking. His method, by contrast, is designed to keep everything exactly in place for about the same cost as base isolation.

For those in earthquake zones, such a technology sounds too good to be true. And since no one has yet incorporated it into a building, it’s hard to say for sure if it would work. But in a release, Arx Pax quoted University of California at Berkeley Seismological Laboratory external relations officer Jennifer Strauss as saying that Arx Pax’s technology, “combined with the ShakeAlert early-warning system, will allow state-of-the-art seismic protection and vibration control for buildings, operating rooms, highly calibrated instruments, and much more.”

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About the author

Daniel Terdiman is a San Francisco-based technology journalist with nearly 20 years of experience. A veteran of CNET and VentureBeat, Daniel has also written for Wired, The New York Times, Time, and many other publications

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