The Rise of the Hoverboard: A Brief History of Swegways

When the Segway was launched, many commentators claimed it would change the ways that cities were designed and built. A few years later in 2015, the hoverboard was created and it seemed to have improved the overall concept – smaller, lighter and without the bulky steering column, could the hoverboard be the real future of personal transport? Here we look at the rise of the hoverboard – where it has come from and where it is going.

Who invented the hoverboard?

This is something of a complicated issue because there does not appear to be a true initial inventor of the hoverboard. Many different businesses were designing and creating similar products at the same time, so it is very hard to pin down. Entrepreneur Shane Chen has the earliest claim to inventing a self-balancing scooter as there was a Kickstarter campaign in 2013 detailing the device.

However, the hoverboard has many similarities with the Segway, which was invented significantly earlier. In fact, Segway Inc. (the company that sells the original Segway) has stated that it holds the patent that gives it the exclusive right to sell self-balancing scooters in the US. They have brought out the Ninebot, which is very similar to hoverboard designs.

Whatever the truth about the original invention of the hoverboard, it was certainly an innovation taken from the form of the Segway, which is why the hoverboard is sometimes known as the ‘Swegway’. The name, however, is another contentious issue.

What’s in a name?

The hoverboard, the Swegway, the self-balancing scooter, the self-balancing two-wheeled board, the mini Segway – these are all terms that are used to describe the same device. It appears to be ‘hoverboard’ that has caught on, although the reason for this is unclear. It is certainly a board, but it doesn’t hover, at least not in the Marty McFly sense of the word.

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There is still debate over what the correct name for the board should be, especially as real hoverboards – skateboard-like devices that literally hover off the ground – also exist (although they are far less commercially available). The trouble is that for the moment there isn’t anything much better than hoverboard. ‘Self-balancing scooter’ doesn’t do a particularly good job of describing it; ‘self-balancing two-wheeled board’ is undeniably anatomically accurate but not exactly catchy; no-one is even especially sure what ‘swegway’ is supposed to be a portmanteau of – Segway and swag? No, for the moment, hoverboard will have to do.

Why did they come popular?

The hoverboard rose to incredible levels of popularity very quickly. But how did it all happen? It’s probably a mixture of various elements coming together, the first being that they are actually quite a lot of fun to ride. Intuitive and seamless, you get the hang of them very quickly and soon you’re zipping around like they’re an extension of your body. They can also be picked up cheaply – reputable makes are available for less than £300.

The celebrity endorsements can’t have hurt either. During 2015 and 2016 superstars like Justin Bieber and Jamie Foxx were seen using models. And equally, it likely helped that they rose to prominence in the year 2015 – the same year that hoverboards were imagined to exist in Back to the Future Part II.

Everything was booming for hoverboards. But then things started to go wrong with stories of boards catching fire. So does that mean that they should be avoided?

Potential safety concerns

Across 2015 a number of reports began to surface that hoverboards were catching fire or even exploding. The problem appeared to be that people were buying counterfeit models from China that had faulty electronics and badly made batteries. The batteries were overheating which is what caused the boards to catch on fire.

There was a lot of bad press surrounding these incidents as a number of injuries were known to have occurred. However, as the cause has now been uncovered, the safety concerns have died down significantly and the simple rule is to buy from suppliers with genuine high-quality batteries.

Where can you ride a hoverboard?

Another potential concern for riders was that they would buy a hoverboard and it wouldn’t be legal to ride it anywhere. Firstly, it should be pointed out that hoverboards are completely legal in the UK and there are no regulations with regard owning them. However, there are currently regulations in place as to where they can be used.

It is currently illegal to use a hoverboard on either public roads or pavements. This means that the majority of people in the UK use their hoverboards either on private property in the many public parks where they are allowed.

This post was written by Mike James – independent writer and regular contributor to ForeverGeek.

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