Hoverboards: Everything you need to know
The hottest toy on the market this holiday season, critics are now wondering whether hoverboards may actually be a little too hot for their own good. Over the past few months, stories and videos have flooded the internet of the popular motorized boards spontaneously bursting into flames and sending their users to the emergency room in a range of spectacular falls. So, are they too dangerous? Is it all hype? Here's everything you need to know: the good, the bad, and the trendy.
Not actually hoverboards per se
Hoverboards get their name from the fictitious airborne board Marty McFly rode in "Back to the Future." They're actually quite different though.
Marty McFly rode his model sideways, like a skateboard. The hoverboards on the market, however, are rode straight-on, like a segway. Then, of course, there's the fact that the new models don't actually hover above the ground. They get from one place to another with the help of two wheels and, in some cases, gyroscopic controls.
Every 12 seconds
Despite the fact that they can't actually fly, however, hoverboards are flying off the shelves. On Cyber Monday, for example, eBay sold one every 12 seconds.
Celebrities like them
A lot of that popularity stems from celebrities, like Justin Bieber and Kendall Jenner, posting videos to their social media pages riding them. Fans didn't even seem to be deterred by the fact that both celebrities fell off the boards at the end of those videos.
Rappers like them
Music stars, like Wiz Khalifa, have gotten in on the action.
Athletes like them
Even star athletes have begun showing up to games on the electric self-balancing scooters.
Here, Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch, left, and wide receiver B.J. Daniels, right, arrive for an NFL game against the Panthers in Seattle.
As trendy as they are, however, they're also dangerous. According to U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission spokeswoman Patty Davis, at least 11 fires in 10 states have now been linked to the popular toy. And they're still investigating what exactly caused the fires.
The leading theory is that the blazes were caused by the lithium-ion batteries contained within the boards' plastic casing. But lithium-ion batteries are the same mechanisms used to powers cellphones and laptops, and those don't spontaneously combust. So, what's different here?
The difference is in the quality of the batteries used. Well-made hoverboards can cost up to $1,500, and most parents don't want to spend that kind of money on holiday presents. So, less reputable brands have popped up, offering much cheaper models of the popular self-balancing scooters. The problem, though, is that they lower the cost of the toys by building them with lower quality components.
Red flags to look for
So, consumers who shop on sites like Amazon are cautioned to steer clear of hoverboards that seem suspiciously reasonable, and don't contain batteries from recognizable brands. You're looking for battery manufacturers like LG and Samsung. If those sorts of brands aren't listed, the omission could potentially serve as a red flag.
Cruising right into the ER
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has received 50 reports of injuries and fires associated with the devices, as of Dec. 10, 2015. The agency's latest count includes 39 emergency room-treated injuries that are fall and collision-related. The hospital visits included 16 fractures, seven strains or sprains, five contusions or abrasions, two concussions and two additional organ injuries to the head. Also: three lacerations and four unspecified wrist, shoulder and ankle injuries.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced on December 11, 2015 that officials had seized 164 hoverboards with counterfeit lithium-ion batteries or fake UL safety markings.
"Working closely with our partners, we want to ensure that counterfeit and substandard merchandise does not appear in households this holiday season," said CBP Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske.
Amazon takes a stand
In mid-December 2015, Amazon quietly removed a number of hoverboard brands from its site -- including industry leader, Swagway -- until the companies can prove their products are safe. Overstock.com halted all hoverboard sales on its site the week before, for similar safety concerns.
Banned on airplanes
Most of the major airlines, including Delta, American, and United, have also now banned hoverboards from traveling onboard. The maximum wattage for lithium-ion batteries allowed on planes is 160, and the batteries in many hoverboards exceed this wattage. So many others are mislabeled that airlines have concluded they simply can't take the chance.
Banned in some cities
The popular toy is now also banned in a number of cities and foreign locations.
You can't, for example, ride a hoverboard in New York City if it's capable of reaching speeds above 15mph. You also can't ride a hoverboard on pavement in England or Wales.
They DO exist
Fun fact: Real hoverboards that actually hover over the ground do exist. There are even a few different types. They're just not widely accessible yet.
Propeller-based hoverboards, like the Omni, for example, use rotors to push air downward. In doing so, they allow users to move up and down, in addition to left and right. Like little helicopters beneath your feet, they can also be ridden over both air and water. Pretty cool, right?
The Hendo hoverboard, on the other hand, uses electromagnets to produce a magnetic field that propels the board upward about an inch off the ground. This is also a very cool concept. The only drawback is that this hovering skateboard can only be used over a conducting surface.
Hoverboard safety tips - part 1
Since those more authentic hoverboards are still in prototype form, however, consumers will have to settle for the grounded models this holiday season. So, to be safe, stick to the more high-end models. Look for battery brands that you recognize, preferably ones that have been certified by a national testing lab like Underwriters Laboratories. And heed these lithium-ion safety tips from Amazon...
Hoverboard safety tips - part 2
Lithium-ion batteries can rupture, overheat or explode if they're overcharged. So, consumers should avoid charging hoverboards overnight or when away from home. You should also avoid bringing the device to a full charge before putting under a holiday tree.
"Make sure you are there when charging and awake, and wait to charge until it is ready to be used," Patty Davis, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, told CBS CBS MoneyWatch on December 14, 2015.
Hoverboard safety tips - part 3
They're also susceptible to hot and cold temperatures. So, make sure you keep your hoverboard in moderate temperature conditions before charging.
Lastly, lithium-ion batteries can puncture, overheat or explode after they suffer an impact. So, if you crash on your hoverboard or run it into a curb, keep a watchful eye on the board to make sure nothing has been disturbed inside it.