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Hoverboard Safety Fears Grow as Problems Mount

Continue reading the main story Video

Amazon Pulls Hoverboards

Amazon is reportedly removing some of the motorized scooters from its store after a series of fires.

By CNBC on Publish Date December 14, 2015. Watch in Times Video »

So-called hoverboards, the two-wheeled, gliding motorized scooters that have taken over sidewalks and social media in recent months, are coming under greater scrutiny for safety reasons.

The self-balancing boards do not actually hover or fly, but they go fast enough to attract trouble. As officials move to ban the troublesome toys from city sidewalks and from airplanes, fire marshals across the United States are issuing warnings against them amid stories of fires and explosions.

A home in Lafitte, La., was badly damaged in November after one of the electric scooters caught fire while being recharged. This month, the battery pack on one of the gadgets appeared to catch fire as a man rode it down a sidewalk in Alabama. And, last week, a scooter caught fire in a mall in Washington state as holiday shoppers watched.

Continue reading the main story Hoverboard Catches Fire at Washington State Mall Video by ABC News

Stories like these have made hoverboards the subject of an investigation by the Consumer Product Safety Commission after the agency logged 29 emergency room visits and 10 cases of fires, according to The Hill.

With the fad growing, and the boards receiving a lot of attention in the run-up to Christmas, unregulated manufacturers are rushing into the marketplace with cheap knockoffs. Meanwhile, some online retailers, like Overstock, have decided to stop selling the electric scooters altogether. Amazon is reportedly pulling e-listings for some of the boards from its virtual shelves. Some top-rated hoverboards are now missing from the site, and one manufacturer told The Verge that the toys were subject to an Amazon safety review. Amazon did not respond to a request for comment on Monday.

But consumers can still easily find hoverboards for sale direct from several manufacturers and big-box retailers, from an assortment of Chinese companies selling budget models on eBay, and from a few remaining listings on Amazon. (“It doesn’t start fire,” reads one of the reviews on a model still for sale.)

The likely culprit in the fires appears to be the lithium-ion batteries found inside the devices, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission is trying to find out for sure.

Lithium-ion batteries are versatile and lightweight enough to be used in a variety of electronics, including laptops and cellphones, but the hazards of packing so much energy into a compact battery has its drawbacks. Poorly designed batteries can overheat and are prone to explosion. But, as Wired reported, there is no guarantee that even high-quality batteries won’t catch fire, which means it won’t be easy for consumers to safeguard against hoverboard fires.

“There is no way to tell when buying, since the catastrophic failure likely will not manifest until the battery is fully charged and discharged several times,” Jay Whitacre, professor of materials science and engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, told Wired. “This charging/discharging mechanically exercises the guts of the cell and typically provides the ultimate trigger for the failure.”

Because the toys are unregulated, basic guidance on how to buy a safe hoverboard is scant. The National Association of Fire Marshals recommends that consumers avoid leaving the devices unattended while they charge, and that they let the devices cool off before recharging them.

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