Aarian Marshall is a transportation reporter at WIRED and former CityLab contributor. She lives in San Francisco.
First, the gadgets were booted from airlines. Now, they’re being pulled by retailers and investigated by the feds.
Hoverboards are not having a great week. The gadgets—which, the pedant must note, glide on wheels and do not hover at all—were popularized by the likes of Wiz Khalifa and Justin Bieber, and have become one of the most requested gifts of the season. But on Friday, Delta, United, and American Airlines all announced that the boards are banned from their flights, in checked and carry-on luggage.
At issue here are the hoverboards’ tendencies to spontaneously combust. Many hoverboards are powered by cheap lithium-ion batteries. Any lithium-ion battery contains highly flammable parts, but cheap ones are particularly susceptible to short circuiting. When disrupted—banged, tossed or accidentally smashed into curbs—the batteries can overheat and explode.
The boards, which a Planet Money investigation found are often made in China with “no identifiable logo, no main distributor, and no widely agreed upon name,” have also been known to come with defective chargers. If the lithium-ion batteries are overcharged, they can also—you guessed it—explode.
A U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) spokesperson told CBS MoneyWatch the agency had received 50 reports of hoverboard injuries and fires as of Monday. CPSC’s latest tally finds 39 board-related emergency room visits and at least 11 fires in 10 states this year.
It gets worse. On Monday, Amazon pulled a number of hoverboard models from its website, citing safety concerns. At least one manufacturer has said the online retailer requested documentation proving compliance with safety standards.
Unsurprisingly, the feds are also getting involved. CPSC has initiated an investigation into 10 reports of hoverboard injuries. Tech Times explains the stakes, as Christmas draws ever closer:
To add an extra twist, hoverboards have become the Tickle-Me-Elmo of the 2015 holiday season, so the federal committee is racing the clock to come up with some answers to present to the general public before the high market demand of the handle-less scooter engenders widespread catastrophe.