UNDER many a tree this Christmas there will have been a hoverboard.
Of course, I don’t mean an actual “Back to the Future” style hoverboard, rather the beast of no name that Wikipedia tries to describe as a “self-balancing two-wheeled board”, sometimes they’re referred to as a “Segway board”.
They have no agreed name, they occasionally explode, there is no known inventor or designer, they are wildly illegal to ride in public and, yet, here they are, everywhere.
As to their origins Wikipedia has a despairing note: “The fast pace of the Chinese manufacturing industry makes it difficult to pinpoint which Chinese company was the first to manufacture the device.”
What appears to have happened is numerous Chinese companies stole the idea from each other and raced to market, while lying about being the inventor.
English-speaking importers then believed the lies they were told about exclusive licensing deals and those early adopters are taking a bath as second-wave designs, selling for mere hundreds of dollars, outperform the models they bought to sell for thousands.
At around 10kg they’re light and small enough to pick up and take on a bus or train.
They’re so low and small that most law enforcement appears not to take them seriously enough to charge their riders, despite each wheel throwing out 350 Watts of power (250 Watts being the unregistered limit in these parts, as applies to electric bicycles).
With rechargeable lithium batteries being churned through the unregulated wilds of Chinese manufacturing a large percentage of them do not meet recognised electrical safety standards and some houses have been burned down. It’s worth noting that some of them do meet safety standards (check carefully and buyer beware).
What they appear to demonstrate more than anything is that no-one is in charge and no-one seems much to mind.
Where the Segway failed to revolutionise urban transport these things, along with the harder-to-learn but safer-to-ride monowheel scooters, have some promise.
Boasting speeds up to 20kph they can save a lot of time (cyclists are considered to average around 15kph), they can handle pretty steep hills and reasonably big people (some models up to 140kg).
With a range of around 20km between charges (assuming they don’t explode and set fire to your house) they are useful for popping down to the shops.
All of these statistics are based on a wild range of specifications from a huge range of makes and models and new generations seem to pop up every few weeks. The important thing is that they’re getting better and cheaper at a phenomenal rate.
When the price point is a few hundred dollars, all sorts of other inconveniences can be overlooked.
One hopes the regulators will catch up to them soon.
It’s all very exciting, but also makes one wonder what’s coming next, out of nowhere, attributed to no-one, ubiquitous in the blink of an eye, completely against Australian rules, laws and standards.
Next Christmas is going to be amazing!
John Griffiths is the online editor of citynews.com.au