Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 17 January 2019

Hoverboards: A fad that may go off balance

Despite safety fears, ‘hoverboards’ have become an instant hit with the young, reaping great profits for retailers.

Omran Alhallami, a former fighter pilot turned inventor, bought his two young sons a pair of “hoverboards”. Recently, however, he banned them from using them, saying that he believed they were dangerous.

“First of all, we should ask ourselves how these types of machines came to our country, when they’re not safe,” he said.

Although Khalifa, 13, and Zayed, 9, are allowed to show off their skills outside their Abu Dhabi home, it is an exception permitted by their father.

Mr Alhallami said “fake Chinese products” should be banned, because they had not had adequate testing.

“There are a lot of malfunctions – sometimes the power gets cut off while it’s speeding, and it just stops, and you go flying – without any safety.”

Khalifa said he used to like using his board, but admitted it was dangerous – although his brother Zayed suffered the worst of it.

Once, Zayed said, he was kneeling down on his board, which went out of control and he collided with the furniture, injuring himself.

“I enjoyed it, but then I realised it was dangerous because if you’re driving and hit something, you will lose control and fall.”

Khalifa said: “We have a friend who uses it in front of our house. He fell in front of me and I crashed into him. And he had an ice cream in his hand.”

Mr Alhallami said: “So, children get injured and also get a lot of bruises. They should not bring this machine here, unless it has been certified and by the proper authority.”

Another issue, he pointed out, was that retailers inflated prices. “The price is not really in comparison. If you check it on the internet, you might find it for even one third of the price. But here, because there’s no control on the pricing on the market, people are playing with us and putting any price tag they want.

“And there’s no after-sale service if you have a malfunction.”

One of his older sons, 24-year-old Matar, said malfunctions were common. “The battery is lithium – and if it gets overcharged, and it’s still plugged into the electricity, the battery will overheat and explode like a volcano.”

Moreover, after they have run their nine-kilometre course, they “just cut off”.

The boys like to play outside, or in the street, rather than in the house. Mr Alhallami, however, believes “the house is dangerous, the garden is dangerous and the street is dangerous”.

Matar said “they keep breaking things all the time”, and Khalifa took the opportunity to remind everyone that Zayed had broken two glasses to date.

But, when they stepped outside to give a demonstration, it was Khalifa who broke something. While attempting to do a trick – hopping off a low curb – his board broke in the middle.

For those still interested, Virgin Megastore sells boards ranging from about Dh3,500 to Dh5,500. The Airwheel Airboard, at the lower end of the spectrum, can travel at 12 kilometres per hour, and comes in black, gold, maroon, silver, pink and blue. Just a step above that is Oxboard, which costs Dh4,300, but is unique in that it is apparently of Dutch design, according to its website, whereas all the others are designed and manufactured in China.

The most popular model is the IO Hawk, which will burn a Dh5,000-sized hole in customers’ pockets, and takes up to three hours to charge. The 15kph board is hard to find, because it is often sold out. Other “hoverboards” tend to lose sensitivity after six months or a year, and have to be sent to service centres for resetting. The IO Hawk, on the other hand, comes with a remote control that can do this within minutes. The Hovertracks, which manages only 8kph, costs Dh5,500.

The prices of the devices do not simply reflect top speeds, but the charge time and quality of material and parts, with top-of-the-range models more scratch and shockproof than less expensive versions.

Instructions promise mastery of the device after 15 minutes’ use, with several shop assistants insisting that helmets and padding were unnecessary.

Meanwhile, Toy Store offers three options, starting with the Dh3,500 Smart, produced by Airwheel. It goes up to 10kph and comes in a wide variety of colours. The midrange option, Airboard, costs Dh3,300, while the cheapest option – the Hoover Board X200 – can do up to 13kph and will set buyers back only Dh2,800. The box is adorned with basic instructions: “Slightly tilt your feet, will be able to control its direction.”

This price, however, is largely undercut by Tarsam’s signature iTarsam Fly Wheel, which costs just Dh2,250. These have been flying off the shelves, and come with a one-year warranty. The product’s box describes it as an “intelligent self balance scooter”, which comes with a handy carrier bag and Bluetooth compatibility so that users can blast out their favourite tunes.

The craze does not stop at the “hoverboard” however. Toy Store, and its competitors, also stock other new products, such as Segway lookalikes and bicycles incorporating similar technologies.

An example, the Smart Air Board Glider, heralds “new fashion short-distance travel”, urging users to “get high”. Airwheel has the S3 series Mars Rover, described as fun, firm, fresh and free – if the buyer has Dh7,000.


Updated: October 14, 2015 04:00 AM