A self-balancing scooter or self-balancing two-wheeled board, commonly referred to as a "hoverboard", is a type of portable, rechargeable battery-powered scooter. They typically consist of two wheels arranged side-by-side, with two small platforms between the wheels, on which the rider stands. The device is controlled by the rider's feet, standing on the built-in gyroscopic, sensored pads.
In 2014, several such devices appeared in China, and by 2015, they became widely popular in the United States, following numerous celebrity appearances with the device. There is no universally accepted name for the device, as its various product names are attributable to the companies which distribute them and not their manufacturers.
Shane Chen, an American businessman who founded the company Inventist, subsequently made an early claim of inventing the self-balancing scooter device. Chen started a Kickstarter for Hovertrax, in 2013. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Chen voiced his frustrations regarding patent rights in China. He claimed that Solowheel, his self-balancing unicycle, was copied by other manufacturers after it appeared in Happy Show, a Chinese television show. In August 2015, Mark Cuban announced plans to purchase the Hovertrax patents from Chen. Also in 2015, an American company, Inventist, claimed to hold patents and announced its intent to pursue litigation.
Segway Inc. has asserted that it holds patents which give it exclusive rights to sell self-balancing scooters in the United States. One of the manufacturers, Ninebot, acquired Segway, in April 2015, to resolve the dispute. The U.S. International Trade Commission issued an injunction against UPTECH, U.P. Technology, U.P. Robotics, FreeGo China, EcoBoomer, and Roboscooters. Robstep, INMOTION, Tech in the City, FreeGo settled with Segway.
The fast pace of the Chinese manufacturing industry makes it difficult to pinpoint which Chinese company was the first to manufacture the device. According to Wired's David Pierce, the device was likely invented as the "Smart S1" by Chic Robotics, a Chinese technology company founded in 2013, and associated with Zhejiang University. The Smart S1 was released in August 2014, and found success at the 2014 Canton Fair trade show. The company patented technologies associated with the board, but due to China's lax patent enforcement, the product was copied by several Chinese manufacturers.
As of June 2015, the board is made by several knockoff manufacturers in China – a pattern common in the country's technology and industrial sector. The copies vary greatly in price and quality, and may exhibit various defects. Most of the boards are produced in mass manufacturing factories in Shenzhen, China. Some newer boards have incorporated Bluetooth speakers, allowing the driver to play music.
The devices' increasing popularity in Western countries has been attributed, initially, to the wide array of celebrities who have been seen with various models of the product. These individuals include Justin Bieber, Jamie Foxx, Kendall Jenner, Chris Brown, Soulja Boy and Wiz Khalifa, among others. The founders of the American company, PhunkeeTree, encountered the board at the Hong Kong Electronics Show, in 2014 and became involved in its distribution, shortly thereafter. The company gave a board to Kendall Jenner, who posted a video of herself riding it, on Instagram. The video became a viral hit on social media, which led to other celebrities asking PhunkeeTree for free samples.
Etymology of "hoverboard"
The term "hoverboard" is used by some sources to describe these devices. However, as originally described in a 1967 science fiction novel by M. K. Joseph and popularized in the Back to the Future film franchise, hoverboard refers to a fictional skateboard-like device that floats above the ground. While the first trademark use of hoverboard was registered in 1996 as a collecting and trading game, its first use as a commercial name representing a wheeled scooter was in 1999.
But what is a real hoverboard? The prototypes unveiled by Lexus and ArxPax recently clearly satisfy the most important criteria for Back to the Future fans: they hover. Both rely on the repelling power of intense magnetic fields—generated by superconducting magnets cooled by liquid nitrogen—acting on a special magnetized track. So neither holds out the possibility that we’ll all be zooming around towns and cities on them anytime soon. On the other hand, the boards ridden by rapper Wiz Khalifa at Los Angeles airport recently (ridden, that is, until police wrestled him to the ground), and by a pilgrim performing the tawaf in Mecca are hoverboards in name only: the word is currently registered as a trademark in the US and the UK by manufacturers of a miniature, Segway-style, two-wheeled vehicle which stays firmly on the ground. Whether these devices take off (while not actually taking off) remains to be seen; certainly, they haven’t been round long enough to be included in the new OED entry, which restricts itself to boards that Marty McFly would recognize.
The word hoverboard has recently seen a dramatic surge in use, as a result of it being widely used to describe a kind of scooter, one which has two wheels attached to a small platform and is operated in a hands-free fashion. That it does not hover seems not to bother people as much as the fact that the devices are, at least in this early state of development, rather prone to catching on fire. [...] Although the word hoverboard did not enjoy widespread use until after this cinematic exposure, it did exist before this time. In 1986 it appeared in an issue of Texas Monthly magazine, in Stephan Harrington’s imagining of what Texas might look like in the year 2036 [...] But the earliest currently known use of the word, by a long shot, comes from a 1967 book by M. K. Joseph, The Hole in the Zero. This novel, subtitled A Story of the Future, falls into the genre of what might be called speculative science-fiction. [...] We should not be so surprised that the wheeled variety now so seemingly ubiquitous should have been granted its slightly imprecise name; when you come down to it, hoverboard is probably a catchier name than rollerboard and certainly preferable to fireboard.
Months after their introduction, there continues to be ongoing debate regarding the correct name for these devices. While they are now broadly referred to as hoverboards, with some support, opposition and even ambivalence for that name, the issue remains largely unsettled. The term "self-balancing electric scooter" also remains popular, if equally unofficial.
Complicating the issue, on April 30, 2016, the Guinness World Records officially recognized a completely different and flight capable device, as having set the record for the "farthest hoverboard flight". As Guinness certified, this "hoverboard" flew over a mile, at 7,388 feet (2,252 meters) distance and at a height of 165 feet (50 meters) above the surface of the Atlantic Ocean in the French coastal town of Sausset-les-Pins.
Many self-balancing scooters are powered by lithium-ion batteries. There have been reported instances of defective batteries, which have either short-circuited, or overheated, causing devices to self-ignite. Several injuries have been reported from board-related incidents, since September 2015. Spontaneously igniting boards have led to lawsuits in Louisiana and Alabama.
In the United Kingdom, authorities have expressed concerns with the boards, regarding possible faulty wiring. In Alperton, a London suburb, a 15-year-old boy was struck and fatally injured by a bus while riding a board. House fires have occurred in London and Melbourne during charging, as well as 24 U.S. states.
In the Philippines, the Departments of Health and Trade and Industry issued a joint advisory cautioning the public against buying them, due to reports of injuries and "potential electrocution connected with its usage". The advisory also stated “as a precautionary measure, the DOH and DTI-Consumer Protection Group therefore advise parents against buying hoverboards for children under 14 years of age.”
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) launched an investigation into the safety of the device. On December 16, 2015, CPSC chairman, Elliot F. Kaye, released a written statement announcing the agency's investigation into "the configuration of the battery packs and compatibility with the chargers". On February 18, 2016, CPSC's Robert J. Howell released a public letter urging "manufacturers, importers, and retailers" to "make certain" that scooters they "import, manufacture, distribute, or sell in the United States comply with currently applicable voluntary safety standards, including all referenced standards and requirements contained in UL 2272 – Outline of Investigation for Electrical Systems for Self-balancing Scooters." Noting that "no hoverboard has passed the certification process at this time", (referring to the voluntary UL certification) Howell threatened the CPSC would detain or seize imported hoverboards and seek domestic recalls. Retailers including Toys R Us, Target, and Amazon.com pulled the product from their stores and websites. The CPSC investigation found that 60 fires in more than 20 states had resulted in over $2 million in property damage.
In July 2016, the CPSC issued a wide recall of over 500,000 self-balancing scooters across 8 manufacturers, including Digital Gadgets, Hoverboards LLC, Hype Wireless, Keenford Ltd., PTX Performance Products, Razor USA, Swagway, and Yuka Clothing. The CPSC officially stated that "the lithium-ion battery packs in the self-balancing scooters/hoverboards can overheat, posing a risk of the products smoking, catching fire and/or exploding." The Swagway X1 model constituted the majority of the recalled models, at 267,000 units.
Restrictions on use
Legal restrictions on the use of self-balancing scooters have been imposed in the United States and some countries. In New York City, the devices are banned under existing legislation; however, community advocates are working with lawmakers to legalize their use. In California, a law in effect as of 2016 places a speed limit on hoverboards and allows the devices in bike lanes on streets with low speed limits, but requires helmets and prohibits people younger than 16 from riding them in public.
In Mecca, self-balancing scooters were banned after a video of a pilgrim, using it during hajj, was posted on social media and the rider was criticized. In Germany, as in the Netherlands, it is not allowed on public streets. In England and Wales, their use is only legal on private property, with the landowner’s permission. Riding it on public pavements (sidewalks) is banned under Section 72 of the Highway Act 1835, while riding it on public roads is banned under Section 170(2) of the Road Traffic Act, 1988. In Scotland, it is illegal to ride on public pavements (sidewalks) under the Roads Act, 1984. In Toronto, Canada bylaws do not allow motorized vehicles on sidewalks, with the exception of mobility scooters for people who cannot get around without them. In Australia, the state of New South Wales has specifically outlawed them on public streets, and is enforcing the law. Other states in Australia have yet to make a clear decision or announcement on legality and enforcement, and are relying on existing laws in place. They are free to use on private property. In Hong Kong, the Transport Department issued a statement saying that under the Road Traffic Ordinance, these devices are classified as motor vehicles, since they are mechanically propelled: "Registration and licence is required before any motor vehicle is used on the roads, including private roads. However, since the construction and operation of these motor-driven devices could pose a danger to the users themselves and other road users, they are not appropriate to use on roads, hence they cannot be registered and licensed."
Additionally, several airlines have prohibited the transportation of the boards, either in stored or carry-on luggage. Several universities have also imposed either outright prohibitions, or various restrictions, regarding the use of the device on their campuses. Others have issued formal warnings regarding the devices.
- New Yorkers can’t be bothered to walk anymore Reed Tucker. New York Post. August 20, 2015. Retrieved January 3, 2016
- Amazon tells customers: Get rid of your exploding hoverboards Dan Hyde. The U.K. Telegraph. December 16, 2015. Retrieved January 3, 2016
- Man Sues Hoverboard Maker Swagway Over Fire That Damaged His Home James Eng. NBC News. December 16, 2015. Retrieved January 3, 2016
- Is The Popular Hoverboard The Most Dangerous Holiday Gift? CBS Detroit. December 29, 2015. Retrieved January 3, 2016
- Hoverboard sparks house fire in Australia The Telegraph. U.K. January 5, 2015. Retrieved January 5, 2015
- Meet the 'hoverboard' that got Wiz Khalifa arrested Rick Broida. Fortune. August 26, 2015. Retrieved October 14, 2015
- Hoverboards seen hogging limelight at Gitex Shopper Naushad K Cherrayil. Gulf News. October 5, 2015. Retrieved October 14, 2015
- 2-wheel electric scooters take off Robert A. Chronkleton. The Kansas City Star. September 20, 2015. Retrieved October 14, 2015
- Pierce, David (29 June 2015). "The Weird Origin Story of the World's Most Viral Scooter". Wired. Retrieved 12 October 2015.
- "About :: Inventist". Investist.com. Retrieved 2015-12-04.
- Kaiman, Jonathan (May 30, 2015). "For Solowheel maker, a patent rights nightmare in China". Los Angeles Times.
- CW33 (September 18, 2015). "Patent wars: Mark Cuban involved in 'hoverboard' battle". AOL.
- Jerry Beilinson. "Hovertrax and the battle of the auto-balancing skateboards".
- How To Make Millions Of Hoverboards (Almost) Overnight Joseph Bernstein. Buzzfeed. Nov. 27, 2015. Retrieved December 24, 2015
- "How To Make Millions Of Hoverboards (Almost) Overnight". BuzzFeed. Retrieved 2015-12-02.
- Mathews, Andrew (19 October 2015). "Bluetooth Swegways: The Second Generation of Swegway". Swegway World. Retrieved 26 October 2015.
- Shea, Ammon. "Hoverboard". Merriam-Webster. Retrieved 2016-04-23.
- hoverboard Oxford English Dictionary. 2015. Retrieved October 14, 2015
- WATCH: The Back to the Future Hoverboard Is Real People. Laura Lane. August 5, 2015. Retrieved October 13, 2015
- "1996 USPTO registration of "Hoverboard" trademark"".
- "USPTO filing for Hoverboard trademark". January 20, 1999.
- New words notes September 2015 Jonathan Dent. Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford University Press. 2013. Retrieved October 14, 2015
- "They're called hoverboards now, and there's nothing we can do about it" Nick Statt. The Verge. January 8, 2016
- "Your fancy scooter is cool, but it’s not a ‘hoverboard.’ Why don’t we have hoverboards yet?" Jessica Contrera. Washington Post. August 31, 2015. Retrieved May 12, 2016
- 5 reasons you CAN call it a hoverboard even if it doesn’t hover Rachel Bishop. Metro.co.uk. December 30, 2015
- The rise and fall of the hoverboard Adario Strange. April 16, 2016. Retrieved May 12, 2016
- Confirmed: Franky Zapata sets new Farthest hoverboard flight record in France Kevin Lynch. Guinness World Records. April 30, 2016. Retrieved May 12, 2016
- Frenchman flies more than a mile on a hoverboard Associated Press. May 1, 2016. Retrieved May 12, 2016
- The Trouble With Hoverboards and Lithium-Ion Batteries Rob Enderle. Technewsworld.com. December 14, 2015. Retrieved December 24, 2015
- 'Hoverboard' Scooter Fires: Faulty Batteries May Be to Blame Laura Geggel. Livescience. December 17, 2015. Retrieved December 24, 2015
- "Shoppers panic as hoverboard explodes at Washington mall kiosk". The Guardian. Retrieved 2015-12-09.
- Hogan, Susan (1 December 2015). "Hoverboard blamed for house fire; family suing manufacturer". wpri.com Channel 12 Eyewitness News. Retrieved 20 December 2015.
- Copenhaver, Stephen M.; Rubenstein, Amy M. (20 December 2015). "Oh What Fun It Is To Ride . . . A Hoverboard? This Year's Must-Have Holiday Gift Poses Potential Litigation Risks for Manufacturers". The National Law Review. Schiff Hardin LLP. Retrieved 4 December 2015.
- Tomlinson, R. Tyler (16 December 2015). "Holiday Safety Concerns: Hoverboards Catching on Fire". The National Law Review. Stark & Stark. Retrieved 21 December 2015.
- Walker, Peter (11 December 2015). "Hoverboard death in London believed to be first involving swegway". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 11 December 2015.
- Andrew Griffin (5 November 2015). "Hoverboard blows up 'like a bomb' and burns down house". The Independent.
- "Melbourne Firefighters Blame Controversial Hoverboard for Strathmore House Fire". Heraldsun.com.au. Retrieved 2016-04-01.
- "DOH, DTI warn public vs use of hoverboards". The Philippine Star. January 10, 2016. Retrieved January 25, 2016.
- Hoverboard Safety: Consumer Reports Puts Self-Balancing Scooters to the Test Christopher Raymond. Consumer Reports. December 15, 2015. Retrieved December 30, 2015
- Diana Samuels (2015-12-09). "Another hoverboard toy explodes in Louisiana, TV station says". www.nola.com. Retrieved 2015-12-09.
- Manufacturers, Importers, and Retailers of Self-Balancing Scooters Robert J. Howell. U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. February 18, 2016. Retrieved February 23, 2016
- Feds Warn That Hoverboards Are Dangerous. Like, Every Single One of Them Brian Barrett. Wired. February 19, 2016
- Toys 'R' Us Pulls Hoverboards From Website John Kell. Fortune. February 22, 2016. Retrieved February 23, 2016
- Target Halts Sales Of Hoverboards Amid Safety Concerns: Report Sarah Berger. International Business Times. February 22, 2016. Retrieved February 23, 2016
- "Chairman's Hoverboard Press Statement". U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Retrieved 2016-07-12.
- "More than 500,000 hoverboards are being recalled". The Verge. Retrieved 11 October 2016.
- "Self-Balancing Scooters/Hoverboards Recalled by 10 Firms Due to Fire Hazard". Consumer Product Safety Commission. Retrieved 2016-07-12.
- "Lawmakers Look to Make Riding Hoverboards Legal in NYC". NBC New York. Retrieved 2016-01-07.
- "New CA law requires age limit, other rules for hoverboard use". ABC7 Los Angeles.
- "New Hoverboard Rules Coming to California on January 1". NBC Bay Area.
- Los Angeles Times (31 December 2015). "Higher pay, hoverboards and vaccinations: Hundreds of new laws in California". latimes.com.
- "Laws Struggle to Keep Up as Hoverboards' Popularity Soars". The New York Times. 26 November 2015.
- "Sometimes we should all just step back a little | The National". Thenational.ae. 2015-09-02. Retrieved 2015-10-12.
- "Straßenzulassung für das self balancing board? (MOT approval for the self balancing board?)". Self Balancing Board (in German). Retrieved 2015-12-04.
- "Mag ik met een hoverboard op de openbare weg rijden? (May I use the self balancing board in public streets)". Rijksoverheid on "Hoverboards" (in Dutch). Retrieved 2016-02-15.
- Griffin, Andrew (12 October 2015). "Hoverboards banned: law making 'self-balancing scooters' illegal was passed in 1835". The Independent. Retrieved 2015-12-04.
- Tchir, Jason (2015-10-15). "I want to buy a hoverboard, can I legally use it in Toronto? - The Globe and Mail". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 2015-12-04.
- "New South Wales Is Another State Where Self-Balancing Scooters Are Banned". autoevolution. Retrieved 2015-12-08.
- "Hoverboards Illegal in NSW". Sydney Observer. Retrieved 2015-12-08.
- Butler, Josh (2015-03-10). "Self-Balancing Scooters Shaky Under Australian Law". Huffington Post. Retrieved 2015-12-08.
- 30 years on from ‘Back to the Future’, present-day hoverboards are outlawed in Hong Kong Kris Cheng. Hong Kong Free Press. October 22, 2015. Retrieved December 13, 2015
- Airlines Ban Boards For Their Tendency to Spontaneously Ignite Katie Sola. Forbes. December 14, 2015. Retrieved December 24, 2015
- Delta, United, and American Airlines are the latest to ban 'hoverboards' Sean O'Kane. The Verge. December 11, 2015. Retrieved December 24, 2015
- Travel Advisory. Hoverboards and Similar Devices December 12, 2015. Retrieved December 24, 2015
- 'Hoverboards' no longer welcome on Singapore Airlines flights Stephen Lambrechts. TechRadar.com. December 22, 2015. Retrieved December 24, 2015
- All of the USA's big airlines now ban hoverboards Ben Mutzabaugh. USA Today December 14, 2015. Retrieved December 24, 2015
- Hoverboards banned by major airlines Ahiza Garcia. CNN. December 11, 2015. Retrieved December 24, 2015
- Malaysia Airlines bans hoverboards Yahoo News. December 19, 2015. Retrieved December 24, 2015
- "Salve Regina University bans hoverboards amid safety investigation". BostonGlobe.com. Associated Press. December 16, 2015. Retrieved December 24, 2015.
- First airlines, now colleges are banning hoverboards Nick Jaynes. Mashable.com. December 22, 2015. Retrieved December 24, 2015
- "Residence Hall Handbook Update. Division of Student Affairs. University Housing". The University of Arkansas. 2015. Retrieved December 24, 2015.
- Important Update Regarding Hoverboards Office of Student Life. University Housing. The Ohio State University. December 23, 2015. Retrieved December 24, 2015
- UCPD to restrict and regulate on-campus hoverboard usage Jonathan Friedland. Daily Bruin. UCLA. November 2, 2015. Retrieved December 24, 2015
- 12-14-15 "Hoverboards" Fire Safety Notice Xavier University. December 14, 2015. Retrieved December 24, 2015
- Media related to Self-balancing two-wheeled board at Wikimedia Commons