Wednesday, 30 December 2015

HOVER BOARDS:  Should we give them to our children?                           

First came the roller skates, then the hand-controlled scooters followed by skate boards with roller skates underneath them. Then came the Swagway electric boards (a self-balancing two-wheeled electric transportation device that has a stem with controls at the top of the stem) and now the hover boards. 

I saw someone riding an electric board in Central Park in New York City in 1980. His both feet were on the board but there was a stiff cable connected to the board with the controls in his hand. I was amazed at what I was seeing as the small electric propelled board was moving him along the paved paths.

The use of the word, hover board is a misnomer. It doesn’t hover in the air like Michael Fox’s (Marty McFly’s) hovering skate board did in the movie, Back to the Future. These new hover boards have wheels on them and they roll along paved surfaces. Of course, the word hover brings unfulfilled dreams of flying in the air like Michael Fox did on his flying skate board. 

The Guinness World Records recognizes the term hover board to include autonomously powered personal levitators. In May 2015, the Romania-born Canadian inventor Catalin Alexandru Duru set a Guinness World Record by travelling a distance of 275.9 metres (302 yards) at heights up to 5 metres (16 feet) over a lake, on an autonomously powered hover board of his own design and construction. Now that is what I would call a real hover board. Several companies have drawn on hovercraft technology to attempt and create hover board-like products but none have demonstrated similar experiences to those depicted in films or even like that of Catalin Alexandru Duru.

In 2005, Jason Bradbury created a "hover board" for The Gadget Show, using a wooden board that was levitated by means of a leaf blower. The original design was not propelled and could also not be steered. In 2009, a second version was made which was propelled/steered by a small jet engine (rather than a fan as with an air boat), and also contained 2 more powerful leaf blowers.

In 2011, French artist Nils Guadagnin created a hover board that floats by magnetic repulsion between it and its base but cannot carry a load. The board includes a laser system which ensures stabilization, in addition to an electromagnetic system which makes the levitation possible.                        

In October 2011, the Université Paris Diderot in France presented the "Mag surf", a superconducting device which levitates 3 cm (1.2 in) above two magnetized repulsing floor rails and can carry up to 100 kg (220 pounds).

I watched a commercial in which two people used a hover board. I have to admit that its use is really cool once you get the hang of it. You can lean slightly forward and you will go forwards. If you lean slightly backwards, you will go backwards. If you want to turn, you just move your arms in the direction you want to turn. It won’t move unless you have both feet on the board.

I can certainly see the real advantage it is for people who work in large warehouses or factories and are continuously moving about in those facilities.

I can also see why children would love to have a hover board to play with. But at what age should they be?  Definitely not for small children. Perhaps younger teenagers. It’s OK for older teenagers. Parents and other consumers have been asking themselves as reports of spontaneously combusting two-wheeled hoverboards have multiplied in the weeks since the self-balancing electric scooters became Christmas’ must-have toy. 

 Here are some of the dangers.

1.  They should definitely wear a helmet. It is easy to lose one’s balance and falling on one’s head is definitely possible. They should also wear leather gloves because falling on a paved surface can cause serious scrapping injuries on the palms of their hands.                                                           

2.  They should never ride them on a road. If a car approaches them from behind them and they hear a horn blowing, as soon as they turn to see where the car is, the wheels of the hover board will also turn and they could end up heading directly towards the oncoming car unless they immediately step off the hover board.

3. They are also literally blowing up, at least in the United Kingdom. Multiple accounts of hover board devices exploding have been reported in the country. There have been at least two cases of the popular two-wheeled devices experiencing electrical issues that result in explosions. The first occurrence reported on October 11, one of the hover boards caught fire while charging in a bedroom and produced a loud bang. The two people in the house escaped through a first-floor window to avoid the blast.

Later in 2015, a family in Kent had a similar experience that produced considerably more damage. The hover board was charging in the kitchen when it began flaming. The owner of the board told the Daily Mail he thought about attempting to put out the fire when a firework-like flare shot out. Moments later, the board essentially detonated like a bomb. The explosion resulted in nearly $40,000 in damages, though no one was injured.

The London Fire Brigade responded to both incidents, and told the Daily Dot that its investigations into the cause of the fires are ongoing but it believes the battery pack to be at fault. There are no particular brands or models identified as being particularly prone to this problem, but it does seem to be revolving around the cheaper end of the market. The boards in question are believed to have been sold with substandard battery packs. When incorrectly charged, the packs damage the internal structure of the battery. This can happen extremely rapidly, or it can take hours, so it could possibly occur during use or even after it’s been stored away" she said. "This is a known issue with lithium ion batteries. Of course, this is not guaranteed to happen, but it is a significant risk, as we see more and more in the news. Thousands of “hover boards” being seized by trading standards over concerns they could explode. The device should never be left unattended while being charged especially overnight. A faulty cut-off switch or plug without a fuse that are seen in many of the seized boards could lead to it overheating, exploding or catching fire.

Law suits are proliferating everywhere by families who have suffered damages to their homes and injuries to its users by flying shrapnel. Major toys stores are cancelling orders for these fire hazards. If I was to give my grandson one of these boards, I would have him dressed up as if he was a member of the police bomb squad. 

Where can they not be ridden? 

Riding them on the road is against the law because hover boards do not meet the legal requirement to be safely used among other traffic. Riding them on a sidewalk is OK providing that it isn’t too crowded. I doubt that any indoor malls would permit anyone riding a hover board inside a mall. That also goes for schools.

And finally

I realize that currently this is the craze all over the world but just as the hooloo hoop was also the craze all over the world. it finally faded away, I think the interest in the hover board will also fade away. No doubt the battery problem will be fixed but when the users find out that there are too many areas where they can’t use the hover boards, the boards will simply be stored somewhere in the basement as the excitement fades.  If the children keep falling and hurting themselves, their interest will come to an abrupt end and all that money spent for the safer ones will have been for naught. By then, the older kids will be driving motor cycles or cars. 

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