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Group 66

Group 66

In 2015, hoverboards became the must-have gadget of the year. Celebrities such as Lily Allen or Mike Tyson appeared in pictures and videos riding them. They even became some of the most popular Christmas gift items worldwide for users of all ages. However, quite soon after their surge in popularity, retailers such as Amazon or Argos suddenly recalled hoverboards, while authorities (e.g. the UK National Trading Standards body) deemed them unsafe for use and likely to malfunction, causing explosions.

Manufacturers, resellers – a vicious cycle?

wgno-jessica-horne-boardThe creator of the hoverboard, who patented the vehicle and branded it as “Hovertrax”, saw its invention copied in over 11,000 Chinese factories shortly after launch. Hoverboards were sold at more affordable prices than the $1,000 products first placed on market, as knock-offs rather than the initial version. By the time the original product was produced in thousands, the Chinese factories had already manufactured more than one million at prices as low as $300.

It is a fact that counterfeits are appealing to average consumers for their much lower prices and similar base functionality as their more expensive counterparts. However, most such products are of inferior quality, dangerous and unsafe, due to unrigorous normative testing prior to market release, with the guarantees or after-sales services lacking altogether in most cases. This is one of the reasons why products can be ready for launch in roughly 3 months in Shenzhen, China, while in the West the process takes up to a year. A quality product not only undergoes extensive quality control checks, but it also uses higher-grade components, reflected in its greater selling price. It can therefore be said that mass manufacturing processes are focused on cutting corners aiming to reach the end result in the cheapest and fastest way possible, trading the health and safety of customers for profit, undermining the core value attached to the engineering profession.

Originating from the high-demand for these devices, the fast-paced, self-regulated and outsourced means of manufacturing, instead of achieving the greatest good for the greatest number of consumers, have accidentally led to catastrophic consequences, fed by the following vicious cycle:

  • manufacturers, more or less capable of producing a viable hoverboard, strive to seize the cultural phenomenon and attract as many customers as possible, by mass-producing versions of their own, bypassing manufacturing standards and safety regulations
  • resellers adopt practices that observe and take advantage of trends in popularity, advertising and placing products on the market when it peaks in demand, irregardless of the manufacturers’ reputation

Given the risks involved by the previously mentioned vicious cycle, there is a need for prompt action. Possible interventions could include: 1) adopting an additional ethical procurement policy that ensures consistent regulatory compliance for a trusted network of hardware suppliers and accurate provisions, regardless of their provenience, thus tightening the component supply chains for hoverboards; 2) informing the public of all the safety certification stages the hoverboard has gone through; 3) reengineering the design and manufacturing processes as to prevent fundamental design flaws, such as the hoverboard batteries overheat.

These strategies can lead to more responsible engineering practices, sustaining innovation yet assuring quality, which maximizes the utility for consumers without disregarding the importance of production means and personal duty for staff involved in the supply chain, resulting in the economy safely being pushed forward.

Should the customers and/or government be held responsible?

Government action – product recall in order to ensure consumer safety

Hoverboard as a new product is currently classified as a vehicle (a special type of scooter), but some consumers consider it a toy, so it is common for minors to use hoverboard. From the government’s point of view, firstly, the government needs to consider the threat of this product to public safety. Secondly, the government needs to consider the impact of hoverboard on the traffic system.

Since the advent of the hoverboard, there have caused many casualties, such as a fire accident that killed three people on March 10, 2017 in Pennsylvania, United States. According to the information retrieved from the united states consumer product safety commission website, there have been 20 hoverboard-related recall events in 2016 and 2017, involving multiple models and multiple manufacturers. The main problem is that The lithium-ion battery packs in the self-balancing scooters/hoverboards can overheat, posing a risk of the products smoking, catching fire and/or exploding. Therefore, the government should aim at this situation, regulate the production process of such products, define the quality inspection standards, and avoid the flow of products with defective design or poor quality.

As a means of transportation, governments have different attitudes towards hoverboard. According to a tweet issued by the head of the New York City police’s 26th precinct, according to NYC Admin. Code 19-176.2, any Hoverboard electronic booster is illegal. In the absence of a licensing system, no dedicated roads, and unclear classification of motor vehicles/non-motor vehicles, it is wise for the government to prohibit the hoverboard from entering the traffic system.

Customers’ action

The customer’s action can be divided into two aspects, namely buying and using.

In order to ensure public safety, customers should try to choose safer products, but without adequate guidance, it is difficult for customers to make an accurate assessment of product safety. Therefore, at the time of purchase, if the government has issued a clear quality standard, customers should judge whether the product quality is up to standard before purchasing.

There is no uniform standard for the use of hoverboard. For example, California law (Ab 604) requires that individuals must be over 16 and wearing a helmet when riding a hoverboard on public paths. Although there is no licensing system, but customers should be in accordance with the law, to avoid non-compliant people (too small children, etc.) and inappropriate people (who are not physically healthy, etc.) use hoverboard, and only in the prescribed place to use. Due to the problems of the lithium-ion battery packs, excessive charging should be avoided during use. After long-term use, it should be maintained, replaced or scrapped in time to prevent accidents caused by improper use.

125 thoughts on “Group 66

    1. Appreciate the feedback. I will try writing a follow-up article dealing in more depth with the ethical reasoning behind the rise and fall of the hoverboard trend. Will likely focus on framing the problem using virtue ethics and deontology this time around, following the manufacturer-seller-customer path.

  1. Considering the globalisation phenomena and freedom of the modern markets, the question of controlling of production solutions can be almost impossible to directly influence on. But, still, are there any opportunities to influence on the producers in this case?
    Secondly, if regulations of selling and using such devices are considered, what do you think is the rational actions for the regulators (for example, as considered in the article, in US) to be taken?

  2. I confess I didn’t know about the existence of this problem and this article affected me. Thanks to the authors for such an excellent job. To reveal the whole point of the matter in a small article is art.
    I liked that the authors approached the questions in terms of standardization and certification. In my opinion, this is the most effective method of supervision in this situation. For example, if the product contains all the information about the manufacturer and the organization that issued the conformity certificate then all participants will feel responsible to the buyers.
    I am against the use of these devices by children as a toy since this is a risk not only for the children themselves but also for other participants in the movement (drivers, pedestrians). Another option of regulation is, of course, the legislative norms for incoming control for stores, whether amazon or others. When everyone aspires to benefit, questions are ignored why stores do not require certificates of product compliance with safety and quality requirements? why are they not respond to the buyers? How can be deal with fake versions of the product?

  3. According to the theory of utilitarianism, the use of hoverboard is not for the good of most people. it is a good idea to recall the produced ones. There is need for professional bodies in places where the inferior ones are produced to disallow such, as they have a duty to ensure safety of the users of the product.

    1. You can’t say that hoverboards in themselves are not for the good of all people… They provide entertainment for the people, they engage manufacturers and advertisers and are, in themselves, very interesting products. However, the hoverboards that present technical problems and are mass-produced by manufacturers that do not care about health and safety… those are indeed a problem. Let’s keep that distinction clear. Cheers!

      1. I will have to agree with Polixenia on this one. Only a small percentage of the customers were affected by an actual hoverboard incident, so, as far as the manufacturers are concerned, the utility principle still holds up pretty well. And what other good indicator that this product lineup satisfied the average consumer than its explosion in sales of the years?

        1. Couldn’t agree more, Julius! On a grand scale, hoverboards benefit many more people than they harm. It is sometimes easy to overlook this fact when accidents are so dramatic. This is in no way minimising their impact… More like an observation regarding the situation. Thanks, Julius for clarifying that

  4. It’s an interesting topic. In my opinion, manufacturers should take the responsibility of making safe products and customers have to be careful on choosing products. It has been a serious problem these years that many counterfeits are made in China and sold in unreasonable cheap prices. It affects the market prices of the products and appears unsafety problems. Comparing the more expensive counterparts, people are inclined to buy cheaper product. However, it is a common sense that cheaper products usually are made of cheaper materials and have less guarantees on safety and usage. Therefore, customers should realise that you get what you pay for. Choosing to buy cheaper products might get inferior quality and sometimes unsafety concern.

  5. Never thought of hoverboards as safety hazards…more like toys… and to think they can catch fire! That is pretty scary. Who knows how many other gadgets are out there, ready to explode at any time? Very informative read… I feel more aware and, to be honest, a bit more circumspect when choosing forms of entertainment

    1. Hi Airin,

      That is very true. I think we tend to not think about that when a product becomes mainstream. We see celebrities/friends using it and we assume that it is safe without checking anything else. I guess this article illustrates that ignorance is not bliss after all.

      1. Hi Boris,

        You are right. Unfortunately, we tend to have this kind of attitude (X said it’s cool, look at Skrillex riding a hoverboard!). But then can you blame us? Media is powerful and so is example. We always want the new, shiny toy. In these kinds of situations, precedent seems to be the best way to learn… It is a sad reality. Look at this family in Bradford! The exploding hoverboard injured 4 people and set fire to the house! So scary
        http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-leeds-35711570

        But then you start thinking….

        1. It really does put things in perspective. This article makes me feel like thoroughly checking every single gadget I own (to be fair this will take a while). Let’s hope I don’t have to throw out anything major. Thanks

  6. I think it is very good that this article ends with a reflection on the actual customer and places emphasis on his/her behaviour. Maybe follow this article up with more detail on that? Maybe also follow it up with a general article about other products that might be hazardous? Very well written and catchy. Looking forward to reading more. Cheers!

  7. I agree that this is a good topic. Gets you thinking, gives enough information etc. However, I can’t help myself from observing that it starts as being very well written and documented. High English level and then all of a sudden it lags towards the end and the quality of writing decreases. Why is that?

    1. You are right. After going through the comments, I reread the article and it does seem like the writing style and quality change towards the end!

  8. I read the article about the inventor of the Hoverboard. Thanks for referencing that. So sad to see his creation stolen and multiplied. I can’t even imagine what I would do if I were smart enough to invent something awesome and people just stole it. What a shame!

    1. Most of Shane Chen’s inventions have been copied. Watched a video interview with him. It is revolting. I am territorial when it comes to an essay I have written or about a little piece of art that I created… how silly is that compared to what he experiences? I wish there could be some way of regulating this, some mechanisms in place that would protect inventors and help them reap the benefits of their own work. If you want to get really angry check this out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SGJ5cZnoodY (no spam… just a documentary about Shenzen, a very interesting place on the planet where boundaries- let’s just call them that, do not matter as much when it comes to getting products on the market ASAP)

      1. The documentary is actually referenced in the article, but thanks for placing emphasis on it, Arianna. I had watched it before. Quite unnerving to be honest.

  9. Very good topic, although I am not familiar with hoverboards, but the article’s adjustments and data show that this product is indeed highly active in many customer groups. In my opinion, the rights of consumers should be protected by the government or the manufacturers, or they must wait for more discussion.

  10. For the manufacturers and resellers, they got a good result: a new product and a sum of money, which may lead them to make such a decision to produce hoverboards. But they should have noticed that their products are not that perfect, in that case, these hoverboards should not be put into the market from both duty and virtue ethics.
    Then how to avoid these kinds of problems? For the government, they should strengthen supervision and improve standards. When it comes to the consumers, they should pay more attention to the quality of the product, the evaluation, the manufacturer, but not purchase just because of the price itself.

    1. Totally agree, Stella. Very good points, but as it turns out, it is trial and error out there…Our recommendations seem idealistic and out of touch with reality because we are dealing with a long chain of people who are mainly interested in profit above anything else. I honestly think that manufacturers and resellers do a bit of wishful thinking before they manufacture/resell their products. In this case they did fail massively, given that with this product risks are major. With other products, they might have just been lucky and they didn’t explode etc simply out of luck.

  11. More of a question for the author. Since Boris is checking his gadgets for potential hazardous traits, do you have tips in this sense? Is there something that should be an immediate red flag when we think about buying a product such as a hoverboard? Would really like to know that!

    P.S. I really enjoyed reading your article. Straight on point! Keep up the good work and keep us all posted regarding further articles

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