Hoverboard Controversy:
Should they be banned from the airlines?

| By Michael Gojdycz |

One of the biggest trends and hottest selling items during the past Christmas season was hoverboards. They are also known as Balance Boards/Personal Transport Devices. While the attempts at being operated by the older generation made for a good laugh on the YouTube channel, they also became a major hindrance for hospitals and the transportation industry. Now the board is getting bigger and safer. More moderate versions with steering heads are being used on golf courses, by delivery services and students on large university campuses.

The version that became infamous in the news is similar to the larger more widely known Segways, except their size makes them more convenient for use in urban and suburban areas. They have smaller wheels and no steering handle to help keep your balance. They operate on a twelve-volt battery similar to those used by electric scooters and children’s Power Wheels (midget sized plastic cars).

They were banned by the FAA from being shipped among other luggage on commercial airlines due to the common occurrence of the batteries spontaneously combusting while being stored in the cargo hold of jets. The problem of the batteries spontaneously combusting is not only linked to hoover boards, but their growing popularity makes them the latest target for the bureaucracy, (Consumer Product Safety Commission). The use of substandard rechargeable batteries and the possibility of them spontaneously combusting, and a link of them causing house fires (Washington Post 2/19/16) has prompted the government and retailers to take a serious look at suspending the sale of the popular boards.

The problem can also be linked to several factors that are vaguely similar to cases of the batteries on the Power Wheels during the early 1990’s spontaneously combusting for no apparent reason. According to the product manufacturers, a major reason was the use Non-OEM cheap imported imitation batteries and chargers from China and India that were not manufactured to U.S. specifications and often made with chemicals that were discontinued for use in the United States. The batteries in question are the lithium-ion batteries that also now widely used in items ranging from hand power tools to golf carts, the new Tesla Cars that raises the question of the public safety in using them. It has been documented in the reports that in some of the hoverboard fires, the residue left by the batteries after the fires has shown that there were cheaper alkaline batteries (non- rechargeable), used in place of the rechargeable lithium-ion types.

Several other theories have been exchanged in engineering design forums (Linkedin forum discussion group, Mechanical Design & Electrical Engineering Design Groups) pertaining to some of the possible reasons for the battery problem and are listed below:

  • Problem: The chemicals used in the manufacturing battery and the overcharging of the batteries causing overheating while in use or in storage and the use of non-rechargeable batteries in place of more expensive rechargeable types.
  • Solution: Adding on/off switch or disconnecting the battery before transporting the board, to reduce the possibility of activating the board’s motor.

 

  • Problem: The device not having a power switch which allows the battery to overheat when not in use.
  • Solution: Using an automated timer on the charging unit to limit overcharging and insure that the proper batteries are installed. This practice is currently used in the newer battery chargers for the auto and motorcycle industry to reduce overcharging occurrences.

 

  • Problem: Water vapor in the battery compartment causing a short at the battery connection.
  • Solution: A better weather resistant seal.

Whether the problem can be solved by using one or more of the solutions listed, imperfections in the design of products will always be present. It is up to the consumer to make the decision on purchasing an approved board and replacement battery and using them in a safe manner and having a little common sense when transporting them.

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