A risk with every purchase?
If you are in the market for a pink hoverboard (also known by its given name as self-balancing electric scooter), you should know that there are certain risks that come with these mobility devices or personal transporters. First, there is a possibility of a fire, and second, the risk of an explosion – risks that are inherent in low quality hoverboards imported from China. This is not to say that Chinese-made self-balancing e-scooters are low quality, but units that are responsible for most pink hoverboard disasters are counterfeits made in China, the home of the first hands-free self-balancing electric scooter – and where its technology is first duplicated, its patent is violated. (China, a manufacturing giant, has weak intellectual property protection and regulatory framework.)
Of quality and safety
Such the topics of quality and safety come into account when one talks about hoverboards, and these two always come together. The China-made knockoffs feature cheap, low quality battery packs – the culprit behind most pink hoverboard disasters. These days, almost every consumer electronic device has a lithium-ion (li-ion) battery pack, just like a self-balancing electric scooter does.
The thing is, the li-ion battery packs in hoverboards have poor separator design. The separator isolates the cathode and the anode, and as a fuse or shutdown separator, it prevents short circuit between the two electrodes. Without a good separator, the electronic device would explode or catch fire in an event of a short circuit. The risk of a fire or explosion is only aggravated by the use of a low quality charger/adaptor that comes with every low quality pink hoverboard.
Now this brings us to the topic of certification by the Underwriters Laboratories (UL). Whenever one speaks about safety and hoverboards, UL certification seems to be in the offing. Why this matters?
About UL certification
The UL is a global independent testing laboratory that evaluates consumer products, including electronics, for safety. It works closely with the US Consumer Safety Protection Commission (CPSC). A few months after the 2015 debut of self-balancing electric scooters, the UL released the electrical and fire safety testing and certification for hoverboards, which is the UL 2272. This safety standard for electrical systems of self-balancing scooters evaluates the safety of a pink hoverboard’s electrical drive train system, battery pack, and charger system combinations. This does not, however, evaluate the device’s performance, rider safety or reliability, which are areas that concern the rider, not the device itself.
The UL 2272 was first awarded to the miniPRO, the latest self-balancing electric scooter by Segway and Ninebot. (It should be noted that Segway is the pioneer in personal transport, and Ninebot is a Chinese company that purchased the struggling Segway for its patents.) The standard is also later awarded to other companies, including China-based pink hoverboard manufacturers.
However, the UL has insisted that it has not yet certified any pink hoverboard as a whole or as a system. The UL tests and certifies individual components that make up the entire self-balancing electric scooter: the electric motors, the charging system, the rechargeable battery pack, the circuit boards, the plastic shell, etc. Having a UL certified battery pack or charger does not certify the whole pink hoverboard system, but having these UL certified components already provide the assurance that the hoverboard is safe – provided you do not overcharge it. The danger with fake self-balancing electric scooters primarily lies with the battery and charger.
But is it necessary for a pink hoverboard to be UL certified? Well, self-balancing scooters are electrically controlled devices or systems. Electrically controlled devices must be approved in the US. They should conform to national safety regulations. They should undergo testing from a nationally recognized testing laboratory (NRTL). UL is an NRTL that test electrically controlled devices according to UL standards, incorporating national standard as an essential component. Any device that passes testing is granted a mark of conformity by the NRTL that evaluates it. In the case of UL, it is the UL Mark.
The UL 2272 standard came months after the debut of the pink hoverboard. It was created as a response to disasters involving counterfeit self-balancing electric scooters and their poor quality battery packs. The standard did arrive at the right time: Port inspectors and customs authorities were unsure what to do with the horde of pink hoverboard imports as these were not included in the checklist of items to be inspected. And prior to the UL 2272, importers and manufacturers did little or nothing to ensure the safety of their products. They just fabricated documentation to show to the authorities or conformity marks on the units and packaging. With the UL 2272, global safety standards will be observed in pink hoverboard manufacturing, and the safety of users are ensured.
What does UL certification mean for manufacturers?
UL conducts a series of electric tests to assess the electrical system safety of self-balancing electric scooters. The battery pack undergoes the most rigorous series of tests, which include the blunt nail simulation, the drop test, the submersion test, and the Bunsen burner test. Any pink hoverboard that is UL certified is deemed safe for public use and bears the holographic UL mark. The UL marks should be found not only on the device, but also on the packaging, battery pack, and charger.
The CPSC has called on manufacturers to obtain UL certification, and warns it will recall their pink hoverboard units if they fail or refuse to do so. And even major retailers and online marketplaces have banned all self-balancing electric scooters from their shelves and websites until manufacturers or brands could prove that they had undergone the proper UL tests.
For companies that truly care for their customers or end users, product safety is a wise investment to make. They will take the UL tests, no matter how expensive they may be, because product safety comes first. UL certification for pink hoverboard units is important for three reasons:
- STANDARDS: The UL tests consumer products for safety. Comprehensive procedures and guidelines are involved, which is why UL certification comes with a price, but it is a small price to pay for product and consumer safety. Should products meet their standards, the UL grants certification.
- VERIFICATION: Quality and safety do not just end with tests conducted at the UL site. The UL will field in a local representative to visit manufacturers a couple of times to verify whether the conformity mark is applied only to products that meet UL requirements. It is a big no-no to use the UL mark on products that fail or did not undergo testing by the UL.
- COMMITMENT: Pink hoverboard manufacturers show their continue commitment to product quality and consumer safety. This is their way of showing they are worthy of the UL mark.
A UL certified pink hoverboard has certain advantages over non-certified ones. Most self-balancing electric scooters are identical in design and function, and sticker brands are rampant. There is no way of knowing which pink hoverboard brand is legit and which one is just a sticker brand. With UL certification, brands could source hoverboards with confidence and even demand that manufacturers comply with UL standards or else call off the deal if they refuse. For manufacturers, they can protect their technology, aside from keeping themselves in business. Safety and product quality will be their leverage.
What does a UL certification mean to pink hoverboard users?
Peace of mind, of course! There is the assurance that they are using a safe product, one that is manufactured by a reputable company. Most importantly, they protect themselves – and their homes – from fire hazards. Indeed, buying a UL certified self-balancing electric scooter is a wise purchase decision. The UL mark is just one of the many conformity marks manufacturers need to obtain for their hoverboards, but it is the most important mark.