By Solomon Hammerly
CatlinSpeak (Portland, Oregon)
In the midst of a total recall, the self-balancing two-wheeled toy simply known as the “hoverboard” has grown as one of the hottest commodities of the last several months. In recent weeks, hoverboards have brought controversy from consumers and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), due to several reports across the country of hoverboards catching on fire and, in some cases, exploding.
Since the boards are powered by lithium-ion batteries, there have been numerous instances of defective batteries that either short circuited, or overheated, causing the board to ignite. This has led to the boards being branded as a potential safety hazard, and caused web-based retailers, such as Amazon, to offer full refunds for defective hoverboards.
A Kickstarter project for one of the first hoverboard concepts started in 2013, after American Businessman Shane Chen desired to start development on his brand known as “Hovertrax,” claiming that this device was first invented by him. However, disputes over patent rights in China led to several knockoff manufacturing companies producing their own hoverboards by June of 2015, which are the ones often seen today.
The popularity of these devices has grown largely thanks to promotion from celebrities such as Justin Bieber, Wiz Khalifa, and others.
Initial criticism of the product came because of its name, “hoverboard,” which is most often associated with a device of the same name being used in sci-fi films such as “Back to the Future Part II” and “Back to the Future Part III”.
“This is Hoverboard Neurosis, an obsessive and undying compulsion to point out that a hoverboard does not actually hover and therefore cannot be called a hoverboard,” says writer Nick Statt of media network The Verge, regarding the frustration by some with the near misleading title of the product, drawing a contrast from the magnetic field based device used float above the air by Marty McFly in “Back to the Future Part II”.
Product name aside, the battery powered scooter has been met with resounding success in the U.S. and around the world. It has become not only a popular device to use in public and around the household, but also a social media phenomenon, with various viral videos of celebrities such as Kendall Jenner attempting to ride on the popular board. That is, until the various safety concerns arose.
The explosive hazards of the various hoverboard models across different foreign manufacturers has caused a nationwide panic over their products, including for those who have perfectly functioning hoverboards at this moment. This concern has caused numerous airports and universities around the U.S. to put a ban from the use of hoverboards in respective areas.
A recent statement made by the CPSC states that “engineers continue to test hoverboards – new models and those involved in fire incidents” but have yet to determine which particular manufacturers have the most secure boards.
“As encouraged as I am by Amazon’s actions, I expect other retailers and manufacturers of hoverboards to take action and offer a full refund now to their customers as well,” says Elliot F. Kaye, Chairman of the CSPC.
Despite recent, raging popularity, the hoverboard market has suffered from the recent recall due to potential fire hazards. Ultimately however, the key factor that prevents hoverboards from becoming revolutionary forms of automated transportation is the existing stigma around the device.
Much like Heelys and the Razor Scooter before it, hoverboards have yet to be used or seen in mainstream media as anything other than a novelty and toy scooter. As a device commonly ridden for entertainment purposes, hoverboards could be seen as a success, were it not for the fact that models up until recently have combusted.
Due to this large scale concern, more laws have been made to ban hoverboards from being used in public areas, with more than 30 U.S. universities banning hoverboards due to safety concerns, and the United Kingdom outlawing them from being ridden on public sidewalks.
As further restrictions on where these boards can be used continues, the idea of being seen riding these boards has grown more taboo.
“In the UK it is illegal to ride a hoverboard on a public street or sidewalk. This means that people have to keep their hoverboard riding to themselves, and rightfully so,” says blogger Lucas Williams of Boston University’s The Daily Free Press.
This consumer and critic backlash to the hoverboard may have done enough damage to the industry to prevent them from branching out as anything beyond a simple yet expensive gift to use within the home, but sales and demand indicate that hoverboards may still continue production, hopefully with safer, accepted models.
Photo Credit: CatlinSpeak