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Beware the Hoverboard

One of the most popular holiday gifts this year were hoverboards. These self-balancing scooters everyone is calling “hoverboards” do not actually hover. But that is not the strange thing about these products; there have been numerous reports saying that hoverboards caught on fire.

According to reports from CNN, an exploding two-wheeler burned down a house in Louisiana a few months ago, another hoverboard combusted in the same state in the past month. A gyroboard caused significant damage to a home in New York a few weeks ago and at a mall in Washington last month, where shoppers were forced to evacuate. Such incidents have caught the attention of major airlines causing them to ban such vehicles altogether.

It seems that there is a common factor that is causing these fires. In the New York and Louisiana incidents, the board was plugged in and recharging. In the mall incident, the board was not plugged in at all; in fact there have been incidents where the scooters burst into flames while people were riding them. It is clear that such incidents occur whether the hoverboard is charging or not. The big problem has to do with the quality of the lithium ion batteries that were used to build the products. The batteries in the hoverboards have the same mechanisms as the batteries in our phones, tablets and laptops, however problems are more likely to arise in hoverboards.

According to Jay Whitacre, Professor of Materials Science & Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, the problem does not lie in the hoverboard itself, but rather the quality of the batteries that are used. It makes sense. Since the hoverboard is a popular gift, and the reputable models are pretty expensive, more-affordable brands use cheaper materials with lower quality to meet the price range that the consumer want to pay. “There are a lot of factories in China that now make Li-ion batteries, and the reality is that the quality and consistency of these batteries are typically not as high as what is found in top tier producers such as LG or Samsung,” Whitacre says.

If you are planning to gift a hoverboard or purchase one yourself, you might want to keep in mind that cheaper is not always the better. Even though saving money would be a great aspect, think about the lives that could be harmed instead.