08 Mar

What Do Hoverboards, UL, and Mark Cuban Have In Common?

By Elizabeth Bellaver

One of this past Christmas’ “hot toys” was the hoverboard.  As is often the case with “hot” anything, products are rushed to market to meet that demand.   And, as is also often the case, that rush to market may mean potential issues with the “hot” product – such as the exploding batteries and intellectual property fights that have plagued these boards.

hover board damaged hover board

We are pleased to count among our customers the global safety science company, UL – which found itself almost immediately embroiled in the issue of exploding hoverboards when one of the manufacturers inaccurately reported that their boards were “certified” by UL.
John Drengenberg, UL consumer safety director,
John Drengenberg, UL consumer safety director, talks about what UL looks for when testing products such as hoverboards on Feb. 23, 2016, at a UL test lab in Northbrook (Jose M. Osorio / Chicago Tribune)

In a February 23rd Chicago Tribune article [http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/ct-hoverboard-testing-ul-0224-biz-20160223-story.html] UL’s consumer safety director John Drengenberg said, “While none of the technology in hoverboards is in itself, new, the combination of technologies is…It's how the whole system works together that matters," said Drengenberg. "It shouldn't be impossible to make a safe hoverboard, but so far there isn't a single hoverboard that's been certified…Hoverboards that UL recently bought at stores in the Chicago-area have counterfeit UL stamps, were shoddily made and filled with metal shavings  that could cause a short circuit or lead the hoverboard to accelerate uncontrollably,” Drengenberg added.

Dregenberg said that if the boards are ever UL certified, they will have a holographic UL mark. (As of this writing, UL has not yet introduced an authentication label for them.) But even if they’re certified, his wife probably wouldn't let him ride one, said Drengenberg, who's 73. "I'd need a helmet and knee and elbow pads and a pillow taped to my butt," he said.

The intellectual property fight portion of the “hot” product problem has gotten coverage in a lot of different publications.  Perhaps the most illuminating story appeared in the Daily Beast http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/12/16/the-real-reason-hoverboards-are-bursting-into-flames.html on December 15, 2015.  The article summary said, “Hoverboards have gone from must-have present to must-ban hazard. Blame a squabble over intellectual property for all the fires, says Mark Cuban, a player in the hoverboard manufacturing game.” Cuban got into hoverboards in partnership with Shane Chen.  He got out of the partnership and the patent as a result of a byzantinze set of circumstances involving competing patents, claims, and manufacturers – most of whom are in China.  The Beast spoke to Cuban about his decision to relinquish the patent hold and his partnership with Chen.  “[Said Cuban]…even the best hoverboards [currently] on the market are built with “junk” parts” – and experts and government-funded consumer protection agencies from both sides of the Atlantic back him up.  “There are a lot of crazy back door deals at those [Chinese] factories so that they all buy almost all of their components from the same few sources—which means even the most expensive have some junk in them…and the fires are just the start of it.  They all cut corners, particularly in user safety,” said Cuban.”

The good news is that UL has now developed a set of standards for hoverboards.  Standards and certification will go a long way towards addressing the safety issue.

However, the problem of these self-balancing scooters being called “hoverboards” will be harder to address.  “Hoverboard” is easier to say than self-balancing scooter – and it just sounds like it’s more fun.

Check out the full text of the Trib article at http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/ct-hoverboard-testing-ul-0224-biz-20160223-story.html and the Daily Beast article at http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/12/16/the-real-reason-hoverboards-are-bursting-into-flames.html

You might also find the following of interest:
1. UL2272 is the standard for Electrical Systems for Self-Balancing Scooters.  More information on the standard can be found at: http://ulstandards.ul.com/standard/?id=2272.  Contact the organizer of last week's webinar on this standard,  jill.jozwik@ul.com, for more information.

2. An article at Wired.com:  http://www.wired.com/2015/12/why-hoverboards-keep-exploding/

3. A video from Consumer Reports:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9xyYmeaGqWU  (For those of you who figure that falling goes hand in hand with self-balancing scooters, check out the very painful looking falls that start around the 1:10 mark on the CR Video)

4. And for those of you who would like to see a REAL hoverboard, check out the video from Lexus:  http://www.engadget.com/2015/08/04/lexus-hoverboard-slide/. 

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