You see the headlines: Wiz Khalifa gets arrested for riding a “hoverboard”. London is banning “hoverboards.” Unboxing videos are all over the Internet. But you just see boards with wheels. Why are they being called hoverboards… and why do the authorities seemingly hate them so much?
Let’s deal with the science, first: Obviously, they don’t hover. What they really are is a class of vehicle best called a “self balancing scooter” or more accurately, a Segway that goes roughly six miles an hour. Costing between $600 and $1,500, they’re currently popular with celebrities, although the nexus seems to be Justin Bieber. It largely exists because dozens of companies have been importing the things; it’s made, where else, in China and the differences between models largely boil down to stickers on the wheels. As a result, if you want one and aren’t picky about brands or build quality, it’s pretty easy to buy one. Hence, they’re everywhere.
So why are they called “hoverboards?” The short answer is that journalists are lazy, and “hoverboard” fits into a headline and tweet better than “self-balancing scooter” or “Segway knockoff.” Also, there’s no shortage of marketing materials happy to exaggerate the provenance and ability of, let’s face it, what’s probably a knock-off of a knock-off.
As to why they’re “illegal” in the UK, the answer is found in the laws themselves. Namely, legislators in the 1800s didn’t foresee a need to legislate Chinese-made motorized scooters. Essentially, they fall through a gap in the law in England.
In other words, it’s the latest tech fad, and like any tech fad, the mainstream press tends to cover it poorly. But take heart: There are real hoverboards in the works.