The term ‘hoverboard’ was first mentioned in the film ‘Back to the future’ in 1985. It was represented as an artificially levitating transportation board that would float a few feet above the ground. The modern iteration of the hoverboard, however, is a misnomer. The actual device being discussed is actually called the ‘self-balancing scooter’ which uses wheels to “float” itself. A self-balancing scooter consists of a lateral arrangement of two wheels connected by a board, on which the rider stands, and steers or navigates. The acceleration, deceleration and turning are controlled by two pressure sensitive pads underneath the rider’s feet. In the article, the terms hoverboard and self-balancing scooter will be used interchangeably.
Image : IO Hawk self balancing scooter, for USD 1,299.
The hoverboard can be broadly described as a self-balancing scooter which is powered by li-ion battery packs, which pose a potential safety hazard. There have been instances of faulty batteries, which have exploded, caught fire or short circuited. Case of spontaneous combustion during charging have led to extensive damage to homes as well.
The most obvious cause of harm originating from this device is the extremely high danger of falling over or colliding into objects, which is a frequent occurrence for inexperienced or amatuer riders. The vehicle can reach speeds of up to 10 mph (16 km/h), so significant damage could be inflicted in case of a fall at high speeds. As is the case with all modes of transportation, traffic accidents are also likely when using the hoverboard, so using proper safety equipment, such as a helmet, knee-pads and gloves is of paramount importance. According to a report by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, hoverboard-related combustions caused more than $2 million in property damages around the US.
Hoverboard safety certification: The UL2272
UL certification is undertaken by an American company based in Illinois. This organization is known worldwide, and is recognized as a safety certification and consultation firm. It provides a wide variety of services to a number of clients, such as safety related verification, testing and inspection. UL2272 is the certificate for personalized transportation device category, which includes the hoverboard. A UL2272 certified hoverboard is less prone to accidents and fires, compared to one that is not. This is because the products with this certification are rigorously tested, tried and inspected under various conditions to ensure complete safety of the product.
Penal limitations on the deployment of self-balancing scooters are currently in action in a number of countries including the US. Particularly in the New York City, these transportation devices have been forbidden according to pre-existing legislation; however, people from the community are cooperating with lawmakers to make them street legal. In California, a law enforcing a speed limit on self-balancing scooters allows the devices to be used in bike lanes, as well as on streets and pathways with low speed limits. Most universities have also banned hoverboards from the campus because these devices are assumed to be unsafe for use in public spaces due to several incidents involving serious injuries.
Alternatives To Hoverboards
The segway PT is seen as one of the closests alternatives to the hoverboard device. This device is very similar in design to the hoverboard, however, its key feature includes upward extending handlebars for easier steering and balancing. The top speed of the Segway PT is 12.5 mph. The device is able to cover a distance of 24 miles (39 km) when fully charged. The segway is relatively safer when compared to the hoverboard.
The Hovertrax is also an alternative the hoverboard, however, there is little evidence present that may support it as being a safer option, compared to the hoverboard itself.
To get more information on the segway PT, click here.
Why Do Hoverboards Explode?
The most common issue with hoverboards seems to lie with the batteries used in hoverboards. The batteries used are the lithium ion batteries, which are often used in cell phones and laptops as well. However, the liquid contained inside these batteries is highly flammable, which poses a threat. Hoverboards that are currently available on the market have been produced in various nameless Chinese factories and, since these factories often do not adhere to any international safety standards pertaining to such devices, these hoverboards can become potentially dangerous.
Another reason why these batteries are causing hoverboards to be dangerous and highly flammable is the fact that these batteries have a tendency to explode if they are bumped around a lot. Any individual, unless extremely skilled at hoverboarding, is likely to bash into walls and other objects. Because driving thee devices takes a significant amount of practice, amateurs often bump these devices around, increasing the risk of such an accident.
Most fires have been reported to occur while these hoverboards are charging. This is specifically because Lithium ion batteries do not accept overcharging, while people may tend to overcharge them. Chargers for hoverboards include a feature of a cut-off mechanism that detects when the battery have been fully charged and then automatically stops the charging, in order to prevent any damage to the batteries or fire. Unfortunately, defects in the cut-off mechanism are leading to batteries getting overcharged and catching fire. These defects usually occur because these products are usually not tested or inspected fully, to adhere to international standard, and thus can cause damages.
How to prevent Hoverboard fires?
If you already have a hoverboard, you must take a few precautionary measures to try to prevent it from catching fire. According to CPSC, it is wise to allow the toy an hour to cool down after use before plugging it in for charging. It takes approximately two hours to charge fully. It is best not to leave the toy unattended while it's charging. Monitor the charging at least while charging the smart balance wheel for the first time. You should never charge the hoverboard overnight or longer than is stated in the manual. It is best to keep the toy away from flammable objects and to unplug its charger from the board as well as the outlet as soon as it’s fully charged.
If you wish to invest in a good quality charger, it is a good idea to opt for the external universal charger. This will not prevent the hoverboard catching fire due to damage to its battery but it would help to avoid destructive fires, the kind that result from overcharging.
Another important precautionary measure is to minimize the impact of the toy in order to try to reduce the chances of the battery getting damaged. It is best to avoid riding it near hard or rough surfaces such as rocks or walls. It is important to be careful while carrying the hoverboard as dropping it could lead to its battery getting damaged as well. Dropping it or bumping into hard surfaces or sharp objects damage the battery pack’s separator sheets, which in turn causes the fire. Though fires usually result from overcharging and not by colliding into something or dropping your hoverboard but if it's best to be careful especially if the board’s construction does not seem that solid.
The best option for avoiding fires is to purchase your hoverboard from a trusted manufacturer, who you know would use high quality components to construct the board.
Common Hoverboard injuries:
There was a surge in injuries caused due to hoverboards during Christmas season back in 2015, when these hoverboards were initially introduced. Although this was one of the most popular gifts for the season, there was a sudden decline in their popularity as people realized that these devices were causing injuries. These injuries vary in nature, and can be caused not just due to defects in hoverboards but also due to the skills of the hoverboard rider.
Due to collisions, falls and lack of skill of the hoverboard riders, most common injuries that were reported included sprains, concussions, and lacerations. This usually happened due to the miscalculations of the rider, and because a small obstruction in the hoverboards’ path, such as a small pebble, would cause an imbalance for the rider, causing the rider to trip and fall.
In many cases, fractures, and skull injuries were also reported due to hoverboards. Two of the most common fractures reported due to hoverboards included the Distal radius fracture, and the phalangeal fracture. Both of these are injuries of the hand, where the hand is stretched out at the time of the fall, or if the hand or fingers gets caught in the wheel and the wheel well.
To prevent these, the use of wrist guards is highly suggested, along with careful navigation, and taking the precautions as given by Safety Tips for hoverboards . For more details on these injuries, check out Two Most Common Hoverboard Injuries and How to Prevent Them.
Due to battery explosions, and fires, people also reported burns and gashes. These included first degree, second degree and third degree burns. While a few lucky people got away with burns to the feet or legs, many people suffered from burns to the hands, neck, arms, legs and even their face.
Which Hoverboards are safe?
When looking to purchase a hoverboard, it is ideal that you purchase it from a retail shop you know and fully trust. The U.S Consumer Product Safety Commission has advised against purchasing hoverboards from unknown websites, online stores or mall Kiosks as none of these seem to know much about the product itself and mere retailers of the product. When buying the hoverboard, think if you’ll be able to get in contact with the seller if a problem was to occur with the board. If you believe that the seller won’t be available or difficult to get in touch with, it is better not to buy from them. In cases where you feel the retailer seems a bit sketchy, it’s better to trust your gut and move on to a different retailer.
While purchasing this device, be sure to check for the certification labels present on the packaging. If ETL or UL is emblem on the package, product or on the user’s manual, it is an indication of the fact that the product has been inspected thoroughly by an independent 3rd party or laboratory and has passed the safety test. However, there are a few sketchy manufacturers who try to get a fake emblem. These fakes sometimes produce emblems that do not actually exist, or may be representation of an internal, self-monitored inspection which is usually biased. This is rare as UL is currently working closely with interpol, US Customs and others in order to try to try to catch these fakes before they reach the consumers.
It is essential for the consumers to keep in mind that the appearance of the certification label or an emblem does not mean that the product completely rules out counterfeits, and is perfectly safe with zero risk of malfunction, but the absence of these certification labels indicates that the manufacturer is not concerned with the safety of the consumer.
Target and Amazon have started selling hoverboards that have the certification for the charger and the batteries but this does not mean that the entire hoverboard is also under certification. In fact, up till now there has not been a single entire product that has been certified by UI. It was also revealed that certain factories say they make use of Samsung batteries but these batteries actually are fake.
No hoverboard is completely safe. Like every electronic device, these come with a risk as well. However, the risk of owning and operating these hoverboards is much higher than other electronic devices. People need to take into these risks before making their decision of purchasing a hoverboard. For a complete buying guide, click here.
Safety Precautions are always a must
Regardless of the various ways of making hoverboards safe, it is essential that other common safety precautions should also be followed. These include the manufacturer’s own precautions, that are usually printed on the packaging, mentioned in the literature, as well as sometimes printed on the back of the hoverboard.
Other common safety precautions have been detailed below.
- Wear safety equipment before riding your hoverboard. This equipment usually includes helmets, knee pads, wrist guards, elbow pads, and gloves, etc to prevent any injuries from falling, and colliding.
- Spotters are a good idea for those trying out their hoverboards for the first time. Spotters can help in preventing falls, and to prevent injuries under the circumstances that a rider falls.
- Follow and adhere to the age, weight and height guidelines given by the manufacturer, as hoverboards can malfunction, or be less safe for people who do not fit the criteria. Each hoverboard is designed for a certain range of individuals, if someone outside this given range attempts to use the hoverboard, it may lead to a serious injury.
- Do not charge overnight. While it may be reasonable to assume that the built-in cut-off mechanism works, it is still a good idea not to leave it to charge for an extra couple of hours, as this can lead to a fire or explosion.
- Hoverboards are not meant to be used as skateboards, although some skilled hoverboard riders may show off their skills in youtube videos, do not try to show off your skills. Because these are heavier, and not meant to be bumped, collided, or jumped, the worst case scenario can be an explosion of the hoverboard.
- Make sure you are riding the hoverboard in a hoverboard friendly area, and not in premises where these have been banned, due to the rugged terrain and uneven flooring, which can be highly injurious for the rider.
Ever since they came out, Hoverboards have been quite popular. They were the hottest toy this past holiday season and regardless of the incidents that are being reported, people continue to buy it. The excitement and fascination that is surrounding the hoverboards does not seem like it would be going away soon.Hoverboards came out back in 2015 and the fascination with this toy only seems to be growing. Both kids and adults are excited to try out this new product. With the new self balancing hoverboards been introduced this year, people are excited more than ever to get their hands on a hoverboard. This is making it absolutely necessary to make people aware regarding the safety precautions that they must take to prevent any serious incidents from occurring.
No technology is free from risk and same is the case with Hoverboards. Though the risk is greater in these, but that only goes to show that this technology requires further improvement. We see a dramatic difference in the Hoverboards that were introduced in 2015 and the ones that are being introduced this year. This only goes to show that over time all problems related to the battery of the board will be sorted and with the number of alternatives there is hope that we will see safe hoverboards in the near future. Until then, it you are interested in owning a hoverboard it is best to purchase it as per the guidelines given above.