4 December 2015

Where is my hoverboard?


The future is here. Self-driving vehicles are on the way, 3-D printing is revolutionising everything from surgery to fashion, and a company run by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos has developed a re-usable space rocket which can land itself.

But there is one big question left unanswered: where is my hoverboard?

The answer, at least for thousands of Brits this Christmas, is that the government has confiscated it.

Yesterday, National Trading Standards UK announced that 15,000 self-balancing scooters (the closest thing we have to hoverboards, even if they don’t actually ‘hover’) have been detained at UK points of entry.

The reason for this is, of course, health and safety, including:

“safety issues with the plug, cabling, charger, battery or the cut-off switch within the board, which often fails. Many of the items detained and sent for testing have been found to have noncompliant plugs without fuses, which increases the risk of the device overheating, exploding or catching fire.”

According to Leon Livermore, chief executive of the Chartered Trading Standards Institute, consumers who find themselves with no hoverboard to put under the Christmas tree should not blame the government, but should turn their anger on the cheap foreign suppliers with low consumer standards:

“Criminals and irresponsible manufacturers will often exploit high demand and attempt to flood the market with cheap and dangerous products.”

If you want to make sure your hoverboard is of an appropriate quality, your best bet is IO Hawk or Phunkee Duck, whose hoverboards cost nearly $1,500. With that kind of price tag, it’s easy to see why UK consumers would be tempted by Amazon’s list of alternatives, which are a quarter of the price. It is these unlucky shoppers who may have had their hoverboards impounded for safety issues.

Despite my frustration at UK regulators blocking an influx of futuristic transport, I really don’t want thousands of people hovering around the UK on devices that might explode. Just this week, reports surfaced of a hoverboard exploding in Louisiana, causing a fire which burned down the house.

But I can’t help wondering whether this really is about faulty batteries. In October, the Crown Prosecution Service released Kafka-esque guidance stating that hoverboards are illegal on both pavements and roads. Apparently they are “too unsafe to ride on the road, but too dangerous to ride on the pavement”. New York was caused similar outrage for banning hoverboarding in public. Is it possible there’s another motive to the confiscation of 15,000 hoverboards just before Christmas? If London regulators have difficulty getting their heads around Uber, good luck expecting them to accept hoverboards.

Science fiction fans are continually being disappointed. Teleportation, flying cars, space tourism have all failed to materialise, even as technologies we could never have imagined become available. But Back To The Future promised us hoverboards in 2015. Surely we can figure that out?

Rachel Cunliffe is Deputy Editor of CapX.