Hoverboards were a big hit when they first came out. Celebrities, athletes, Youtube influencers, and famous musicians like Skrillex and Justin Bieber all got caught up in the trend. But like every fad in history, this piece of mobility tech quickly glided into oblivion. Or maybe not?
A quick search on Amazon will tell you that the market is still alive. In fact, the hoverboard market is expected to rise by over $2 billion in 2023, according to Market Watch.
After all the controversies, regulatory warnings, massive product recall, and its semi-extinction—are hoverboards still worth buying?
We’ll clear some of the confusion about what a hoverboard really is (but it doesn’t hover!) and if it’s safe to buy one in 2019. Let’s go!
Hoverboards are self-balancing scooters, similar to a segway sans handlebar (or knee control bar) for steering and balance. Instead, you balance your feet on top of a board with two wheels. These toys don’t really hover and should be aptly called a self-balancing scooter, but that’s a bit of a mouthful.
A lot of people also call it a segway, which is inaccurate because segway is a brand name like Toyota or Ducati. Another difference is that these self-balancing boards are cheaper than the sturdy-built segway.
The first generation hoverboards were introduced in 2014. They were so popular you can easily snatch them anywhere including Walmart, Amazon, Toys ‘R’ Us, Target, and Alibaba, with most brands coming from China.
Shortly after, Segway sued some of the Chinese hoverboard manufacturers for patent infringements, only to be acquired by one of these companies. In 2015, Segway was sold to Ninebot Inc., a Beijing-based startup that recently unveiled a self-driving scooter which is expected to hit the road early next year.
A year after the acquisition, Segway-Ninebot introduced its own hoverboard-like device, the Segway miniPRO (still doesn’t hover!) with an introductory price of $1000.
Real hoverboards levitate and move above the ground like Marty McFly’s Mattel hoverboard in the movie Back to the Future II (One our favorites!) Because they float in the air, they don’t have wheels.
Actually, we don’t know. Levitating hoverboards haven’t reached the mainstream market yet. And if they exist, they can be extremely limited and cost an arm and a leg. Several companies have already designed their own “real” hoverboards. Though promising, none has been released for consumers.
Hendo hoverboard by Art Pax – the ingenuity of the Kickstarter-backed hoverboard was marred with a few hiccups. First of all, it only functions above a non-ferromagnetic surface or any metal sheet without iron. Second, it is hard to maneuver even by a professional skateboarder like Tony Hawk. Not to mention their rechargeable LiPo batteries can only last for a few minutes.
Flyboard Air by Franky Zapata – this jet-powered hoverboard contains five turbo engines and has set a world record for farthest hoverboard flight in 2016. It has enough power to fly for ten minutes and can reach a maximum speed of 90 miles per hour. Only the French inventor Franky Zapata can ride the Flyboard Air at the time of writing (read: it is not for sale).
Slide by Lexus – Like Hendo, Slide utilized magnetic field system technology to power their hoverboards. While it looks closer to Marty’s machine, it also rides on a magnetic surface. The levitating device is only for demonstration. Also, not for sale.
The year 2015 saw a spike in hoverboard-related accidents from catching fire to fall and finger entrapment. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, more than 26,000 children were brought to an emergency department due to hoverboard injuries between 2015 and 2016.
The most common injuries were fractures, bruises, and strains/sprains. But not only that, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has received numerous reports of two-wheeled boards spontaneously overheating, exploding, catching fire, and causing burns and property damage.
Over 500,000 hoverboards were recalled in 2016 alone. More hoverboard brands, including iHoverspeed, Smart Balance Wheel, and Go Wheels, were recalled from different states the following year.
There’s no question that a hoverboard is fun to ride. That’s why the demand hasn’t totally died down. The root cause of the hoverboard snafu was not just bad design. Remember that most of the first generation hoverboards were China-made brands that did not meet safety manufacturing standards. Counterfeit boards have also been investigated.
Those machines were most likely powered by poorly manufactured batteries that can explode when charged too much or too fast. A battery explosion is not uncommon among electronic products. Even electric cars, laptops, and an $800 smartphone can suffer from battery failure and combustion.
However, today’s hoverboards have made significant advancements. The CPSC now requires all hoverboard brands to get a UL 2272 certification to be eligible to be imported in the US. These brands are less likely to catch fire. UL certified hoverboards are now available at Amazon, Target, Walmart, and eBay. Plus, they are rather affordable now. You can get one for under $150.
Since many of the available models work the same, with minor differences in style and feature, you can’t go wrong with any of the popular brands. Safety should be the biggest factor to consider when buying a new hoverboard. Prices range from $120 to $800.
Look for a UL 2270 certified brand – the UL safety standards indicate that a product must go through dozens of tests, such as vibration testing, overcharge test, short-circuit test, and temperature cycling, in order to be certified as safe to use.
Check the list of recalled brands from CPSC – the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s website has a list of hoverboard brands that have been recalled due to fire hazard or manufacturing defects.
Choose your preferred type and features – there are different types of hoverboards, some with attractive features to boot. Standard boards are great for beginners and amateurs. Off-road or commuter is designed for more experienced riders; their large tires can easily cross difficult terrains. Notable features to look for:
Buy from a reputable seller – although Amazon is a comprehensive and generally trusted marketplace, things can still go wrong. Just because a product is on Amazon doesn’t mean it is being sold by Amazon itself. When buying from third-party sellers, always look for the seller’s feedback and product reviews from verified purchases.
Check the minimum age and weight requirements.
Do not leave the device unattended while charging.
Always wear protective gear while riding.
Do not put your hands on the moving parts of the device even while at rest.
Only use the charging cord that came with the hoverboard.
Check your local laws to know where to ride.
Learn the proper way of getting on and off the device.
Learn how to maintain posture and balance by doing the practice/training mode.
Hoverboards were banned in public places like airports, malls, business establishments, pavements, and roads. Cities such as Dubai have completely banned them. So where can you ride your hoverboard?
It’s legal to ride a hoverboard on private property with permission from the owner. In California, hoverboards and other motorized wheeled devices are allowed on bike lanes and everywhere a bicycle can go.
Q: Can hoverboards catch fire?
A: Old hoverboards were reported to cause spark, fire, and explosion. Newer UL certified hoverboards are safe to ride because they passed a series of safety testing and construction evaluation before they are released in the market.
Q: How do hoverboards self-balance?
A: Inside a hoverboard are different components that work together to maintain balance. The logic board (motherboard) receives data from all the sensors, hub motors, and gyroscope and computes tilt angle, speed, and incline in real-time.
Q: Why is my hoverboard shaking?
A: Sometimes a hoverboard shakes when it is not properly calibrated. If the rider is too light it might also cause the device to shake. Check the minimum weight requirement of your hoverboard.
Q: Are hoverboards safe for kids?
A: Most hoverboards are recommended for children aged 13 years and older, but it varies from manufacturer to manufacturer. Check if your hoverboard has a specific age requirement. To keep your kids safe, make sure they wear protective gear like helmet, wrist guards, and knee guards.
Q: Why does my hoverboard keep on beeping?
A: There are many reasons why a hoverboard beeps non-stop from a faulty motherboard to low batteries. A beeping device is letting you know that something is wrong. Sometimes it just needs calibration. Follow these steps to calibrate your hoverboard: