Hoverboards, the self-balancing scooters that were this past holiday season’s hot-selling gift, are now prohibited from being stored, charged and used in all Stony Brook University buildings.
The hoverboard restriction comes after hoverboards have been linked to fires in at least 17 states, according to Campus Residence’s website. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission is now investigating the cause of at least 48 fires linked to hoverboards in 20 states, according to its website.
Some of the hoverboards have caught on fire while being charged, others while unplugged. Some even ignited while consumers were riding them. In Louisiana and Tennessee, hoverboards have burned down houses while they were being charged.
The cause of the hoverboard fires is suspected to be cheaply manufactured lithium-ion batteries produced in Chinese factories. The anode/cathode separator in these batteries is highly susceptible to being punctured because of the poor quality of the materials. When this happens, the batteries short-circuit, causing electrolytes in the cell to boil and break the call casing. This eventually results in a large fire, according to Jay Whitacre, a professor in the Materials Science & Engineering department at Carnegie Mellon University, in a Wired article.
“If the wirings are not proper in batteries, if the positive and negative touch, they can explode,” Saran Singh Sound, a freshman electrical engineering major, said. He opened up his own hoverboard to check the wiring and quality of his battery. Sound says his hoverboard is fine because the battery is made from the reputable brand, Samsung, and that his wires are of good quality.
In the “Wired” article, Whitacre says LG or Samsung lithium-ion batteries are of good quality, whereas the batteries made in Chinese factories are not as good.
Whether some models or brands are more or less likely to explode than others is not known because there are currently no safety standards for the products.
Along with the CPSC engineers who are investigating and testing the safety of specific hoverboards/manufacturers, Underwriters Laboratories (UL), a leading global safety science company, has announced the availability of a new standard called UL 2272 that can be used to test and certify “the electric drive train, the rechargeable battery, and the charger system” used in hoverboards, according to an official statement released by UL. No hoverboards are UL-certified as of right now.
Meanwhile, Amazon has stopped selling hoverboards and is offering full refunds for hoverboards purchased on their site, according to a statement from the U.S. CPSC Chairman Elliot F. Kaye.
In his statement, Kaye also recommends that consumers with hoverboards err on the side of caution by having a fire extinguisher nearby if you’re charging or using the boards. Charging should take place in an open area away from combustible materials, to gear up with helmets and pads and to not use your hoverboard on the road.
Stony Brook University is being extra cautious with their restriction, saying they will not lift or modify the restriction until industry standards are established and implemented because “the risk that a fire and exploding battery can pose to individuals and facilities is far too great,” Gary Kaczmarczyk, director of Environmental Health and Safety, said in an email.
“I usually used it for fun,” Sound said. “Sometimes when I’m bored, just ride around and grab some food, so it’s not much of a big deal.”
Sound understands why the university has enacted the restriction and says it does not affect him much.
“I’m a little upset I can’t bring it because it is insured so I feel like I should be allowed to bring it because the insurance would cover damages, but I understand why they’re doing it,” Andrew Alejo, a freshman computer science major, said.