If you haven’t already seen kids riding along on self-balancing scooters, advertised as hoverboards, you’ll may very likely see them after the holidays–unless tragic developments and seller bans have an impact. The two-wheel, ride-on device has become one of the most in-demand gifts for Christmas.


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But if there’s one thing that will hurt its popularity and has already raised its notoriety, it’s the number of riding accents and fire incidents traced to the toy. The real culprit behind issue appears to be a lack of manufacturing standards, quality control, and traceability.

The virtually nonexistent production and safety standards for hoverboards have even lead some to wonder why there haven’t been more accidents already reported.

Rapidly Released, In-Demand, And Potentially Dangerous 
Earlier this month, the United Kingdom’s National Standards said that of the 17,000 hoverboards they’ve inspected since October, 88 precent of them can be considered unsafe due to faulty plugs, cabling, chargers, batteries, and other components within the device.

The vast majority of hoverboards are manufactured in China, and millions have already been shipped out to the rest of the world. Now that the serious problems surrounding this rapidly released and in-demand product have become apparent, many are asking just how this has happened and what are the larger issues this one fad brings to light.

Manufacturing To Meet Fads Over Standards 
In China, it’s not difficult to take a completely new product design and get that product on international store shelves in just months or even weeks. The global manufacturing giant has been consistently recognized for this unprecedented speed, but it sacrifices a lot in the process.

Self-regulation, tangled patent and intellectual property issues, lack of mandatory safety standards and inspection processes, and the plethora of things that can and do go wrong with electrical components, have all contributed to the especially faulty example of the hoverboard.

In this specific case, there are numerous manufacturers—some less capable than others—producing their own version of the same product, without any set production standard, safety requirements, or inspection process.

Credit: Paul Sableman

Not Just The Fault Of The Factory
There’s also the problem of importer practices. Many resellers are focused on hitting the market with a fad product at the peak of its popularity, even it means sourcing goods from factories with unknown reputability and without taking the time to complete their own comprehensive safety and quality testing.

The hoverboard is further compromised by its reliance on a larger lithium-ion battery, which can cause fires due to overheating or incompatible voltages between the board’s charger and battery.

Normally, regulatory and certification companies like UL will test and certify electronic products as safe and up to specific commercial standards, but reportedly there has yet to be a hoverboard to have been UL certified.

Complex Products, Cheap Standards
This is only scratching the surface of the many issues that result from high-demand, self-regulated, rapid paced manufacturing of consumer electronics. The hoverboard is just one instance of how lacking quality and production standards can literally combust into very real dangers for the consumer.

Given the popularity of, and the demographic for this product—which includes children—unsafe hoverboards could amount to truly unfortunate cautionary tale about lack of quality and care in the international supply chain. And if it’s not this fad electronic, could it be next year’s?

It seems the call for genuine quality assurance, traceability, and industry-spanning standards is clear, but is it loud enough to be heard over demands for speed and low cost in the manufacture and supply of complex products? Tell us your thoughts on this issue in the comments.

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