The hoverboard is this year’s hottest holiday gift… literally, as there are reported cases of the self-propelled scooters exploding or catching fire. A home in Louisiana was damaged when a hoverboard caught fire while charging, and a man in Alabama claims his hoverboard exploded below his feet. The National Association of State Fire Marshals issued an advisory for customers to do their homework before purchasing one of these devices to ensure they’re in compliance with safety standards, as apparently not all of the $250-$2,000 Segway-skateboard hybrids are created equal.
The danger may derive from overcharging the devices’ lithium batteries with faulty chargers; what’s more, experts suggest users monitor the charging process as overcharging the hoverboard could result in, you know, burning your house down. I don’t know about you, but I barely have the time to cut my nails let alone babysit a hoverboard until it reaches its optimal power level, obsessing that if I don’t pay enough attention my sneakers will start to smoke.
It just so happens that 2015 is the year prophesied in the Back to the Future movies for when we would have real hoverboards. It may sound like a conspiracy theory, but perhaps the companies developing these things rushed them to market prematurely to take advantage of this pop culture coincidence? As it is, most of the devices come from Shenzhen, China, regardless of which brand graces their packaging. Those early-adopters who have experienced fiery malfunctions might speculate that not nearly enough testing has been performed on these things to put them in the hands of the trusting public. The only hoverboard I’ve seen in person was under the feet of a too-cool early 20-something who proclaimed its awesomeness just before tumbling off of it twice and then awkwardly rolling away barely faster than my stroller-speed.
Exploding, fire, flames, spontaneous combustion: these are not words I want to consider when gauging whether or not to buy my kid a present. We can’t protect our children from everything, and any mobile activity – riding a bike, skiing, going down slides at the water park – carries risk. But as parents we constantly calculate risk-reward ratios, and in the case of the hoverboard it seems we should allow for a few years of product refinement before we go head over heels for this year’s hot gadget.