The scandalous history of ‘hoverboards’

Is it a segway? Is it a hoverboard? Even the name of the latest craze to hit the UAE is controversial.

Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

It doesn’t hover and it’s not made by the Segway company of New Hampshire.

Almost everything about the two-wheel powered board that has taken the world by storm seems confusing.

Working out what the thing is called is the first problem. Wikipedia settles for a “self-­balancing two-wheeled board” which is more of a description than a name.

In other reports it is called a hoverboard, although it remains in contact with the ground at all times, or a Segway, after the much larger personal transportation vehicle invented by an American, Dean Kamen, in 2001. Another name gaining popularity is “Swegway”.

At least one version of the new board has roused the ire of Segway Inc, which last month announced it was pursuing a list of alleged copyright breaches against one company, Inventist Hovertrax.

In many cases, they are called by the brand that sells them, of which there appear to be dozens, perhaps even over 100, including IO Hawk, PhunkeeDu­ck, Hoveride, HoverBoost, Rebel Board, Fiturbo, Chic, ERover, Wally Gadgets, Hovertraks and – perhaps not the most imaginative – Two Wheels.

Despite a price range of a few hundred dirhams to more than a thousand, whatever the brand, all the devices are almost identical in appearance.

According to an investigation by Wired magazine in June, the boards made their first appearance at a trade show in China and were sold in local markets by August last year.

The company producing them, Wired concluded, was called Chic, founded in conjunction with a local university but such was the demand, other factories began producing boards, branding them according to the demands of customers.

All work in the same way, using twin electric motors controlled by pressure pads that allow riders to determine the speed and direction by balance. The boards are capable of speeds of up to 10 kilometres per hour and because they partly recharge themselves when in motion, can keep going for hours, with a claimed range of nearly 20 kilometres. But they cannot climb even the lowest step.

The boards are also customised with coloured LED lighting that makes them visible at night.

Inevitably, celebrities were early adopters, from Justin Beiber to Kendall Jenner and Nicki Minaj. Jamie Foxx entered on one during the Tonight Show, while the rapper Wiz Khalifa claimed to have been arrested after riding his board through security at Los Angeles International Airport.

Their wider popularity has brought problems. A video of a pilgrim using one to circle the Kaaba in Mecca last month provoked a debate among Islamic scholars about whether this was permitted.

How many children and adults have been injured in falls appears impossible to calculate, but safety concerns led Britain to effectively ban them this week by ruling that they cannot be ridden on roads, pavements or in any other public places.

Offenders face prosecution for causing a “nuisance” under a 180-year-old act of parliament originally designed to keep livestock off footpaths, suggesting that however fast technology moves, the law is always one step ahead.