After several documented incidents involving hoverboards catching on fire and injuries sustained due to serious falls, a U.S. government committee has launched an official investigation to deduce how safe hoverboards actually are — and if not, what their safety standards should and could be.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) decided to execute an investigation over 10 respective reports of hoverboards (the self-balancing two-wheeler variety, not the Back to the Future II-esque sort) spontaneously catching on fire, and 29 separate incidents of falls that have resulted in injury. 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.
As Wired reports, there doesn't seem to be a definitive cause to account for spontaneous combustion in the two-wheeled contraption: two distinct incidents that took place in both New York and Louisiana stated that the boards were plugged in when they caught on fire, whereas one occurrence that took place in a Washington mall detailed that the hoverboard was unplugged but equally havoc-inducing, so much so that it forced shoppers to evacuate the grounds.
Jay Whitacre, Professor of Materials Science & Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, posits that the fires don't have as much to do with the hardwiring of hoverboards, but rather the quality of the batteries used to power them.
"There are a lot of factories in China that now make Li-ion batteries, and the reality is that the quality and consistency of these batteries is typically not as good as what is found in top tier producers such as LG or Samsung," Whitacre said in an interview with Wired. "These are known as 'low cost li-ion batteries' by most in the industry — they are not knockoffs or copies, but are instead just mass-manufactured cells."
To give you an idea of the lethal nature of these lithium-ion batteries, if a battery's anode and cathode aren't aligned properly, something as simple as puncturing it with a nail can set it on fire.
Whitacre also pointed out that defective chargers that overcharge hoverboard batteries might also be at fault.
Whatever the reason may be for the hoverboard-related incidents, retailers like Amazon aren't taking any chances, urging customers to only purchase two-wheelers made domestically in the U.S., pulling links for hoverboard brands left and right.
To get an idea of what a hoverboard looks like when it actually catches on fire, check out the video clip below.
Photo: Phillip Male | Flickr