When it was revealed in 2001, the Segway scooter was ‘supposed’ to revolutionize the way people got around. However, the self-balancing means of transportation never caught on. In the last year, similar products have entered popular culture thanks to a number of influential users. Here’s everything you need to know about the “hoverboard” craze.

During a curated Reddit “Ask Me Anything” session, noted theoretical physicist, Stephen Hawking, was asked about whether he saw robots as a potential threat when it came to the notion that people will eventually lose out to AI technology because of their ability perform tasks more efficiently than their human counterparts. “If machines produce everything we need, the outcome will depend on how things are distributed,” Hawking answered. “Everyone can enjoy a life of luxurious leisure if the machine-produced wealth is shared, or most people can end up miserably poor if the machine-owners successfully lobby against wealth redistribution. So far, the trend seems to be toward the second option, with technology driving ever-increasing inequality.”

There’s no denying that we’ve come overdependent on machines and gadgets these days. Some would argue that an iPhone is a basic necessity for functioning in today’s society. In turn, what were once wants are now capitalist gains.

image credit: store.inventist.com

If you’ve stepped out in a major city around the world in the last several months, chances are you’ve seen a person or a gaggle of people whizzing by on an electric, self-balancing scooter that are being colloquially referred to as “hoverboards.” Whereas the aforementioned Segway scooter evokes thoughts of doughy tourists zooming through city centers in fanny packs and bulbous helmets, the “hoverboard crowd” is decidedly younger, more fashion-conscious and decidedly “cooler” – depending on who you talk to.

We know how they got here – favoring two wheels instead of two feet. But how did we enter into an era where hoverboards are used daily?

Hoverboard Fever

Ever since Marty McFly strapped a neon hoverboard to his feet in Back to the Future II, kids and adults alike have hit the pillow at night and dreamt about the day when technology would finally catch up to cinema’s vivid imagination.

In March 2014, Funny or Die pulled off a clever hoax with Tony Hawk – claiming that “The HUVr Board team ultimately aims to improve the efficiency, speed and sustainability of mass transportation.” Ultimately, the joke was on us.

In November of that same year, Tony Hawk found himself once again associated with hoverboard mania after trying out a real product from Hendo that relied on a special magnetic field which levitated the futuristic device off the ground.

In June of 2015, Lexus officially unveiled their interpretation of the product as part of their “Amazing in Motion” series of video spectacles. Developed over the course of 18 months, the Lexus hoverboard used magnetic levitation, liquid nitrogen cooled superconductors and permanent magnet to achieve amazing frictionless movement.

Despite Lexus seemingly creating what we thought might never exist, the response was lukewarm at best. To this point, innovation in the field has been less about personal freedom of movement, and more about proof of concept.

image credit: store.inventist.com

The Companies

According to The New York Times, “The original two-wheel scooter (and United States patent holder) is called Hovertrax and was created by Inventist, a tech company in Camas, Wash., that began a Kickstarter campaign in 2012, before releasing its first commercial version in late 2014.”

In their company bio, Inventist claims that their $1,495 USD Hoevertrax is “the world’s first portable, double wheeled, self-balancing device.” In addition to the Hovertrax, they offer transportation junkies the ability to master the unicycle, the chance to walk and skip on water, and something referred to as “Orbitwheels” which is a cross between a skateboard and inline skates.

Like many other first generation products, the Hovertrax was reverse-engineered at factories throughout China – resulting in more companies entering the marketplace – and a decidedly cheaper alternative than the Hovertrax.

Rivals include the Mobi Max, MonoRover R2, IO Hawk and PhunkeeDuck. While they all state that they are the fastest, smoothest and safest, they all rely on similar ingenuity to get a person from point A to point B.

If there is any indication that there is real money to be made – and that the trend is going anywhere – Walmart has announced it has plans to sell various models in store as soon as November 1. “We’ve bought deep in this item because our buyers expect it to be a hot holiday gift, possibly as hot as the Razor Scooter since it skews more towards adults,” said Jaeme Laczkowski, a spokeswoman for Walmart.com.

image credit: store.inventist.com

The Lawsuits

There’s no shortage of controversy when it comes to the burgeoning “hoverboard” sector. In response to Walmart’s stated intentions to enter the fray, Mark Cuban – Dallas Mavericks owner and Shark Tank investor – has threatened that “They [Walmart] are in for a nightmare.” Cuban himself is an investor in a patent held by Shane Chen of Hovertrax who has filed a lawsuit against IO Hawk – an American importer of Chinese-made hoverboards. With the potential distribution at Walmart up for grabs, whoever lands the deal is in for quite the financial windfall.

While Hovertrax finds themselves on the offensive in one lawsuit, they are the defendants in another. One of the most used critiques of their product is that “it looks like a Segway without the pole.” Thus, it should come as little surprise that Segway is suing them. According to The Verge, “As recompense, Segway seeks damages, attorney fees and a permanent injunction preventing Inventist from selling any of the infringing products. If the suit is successful, it could stop Inventist’s latest product in its tracks.”

image credit: huffingtonpost.ca

The Patent

According to their October 2001 filing, Segway owns US Patent 6,302,230, which details, “An automatically balancing vehicle having a headroom monitor.” Under the law, they own notable attributes like “a platform which supports the user,” “a ground-contacting module,” and “a motorized drive arrangement.”

When all is said and done, Segway may hold all the cards and have the right to see that every product that violates their patent can be pulled off the shelf.

image credit: 961.com.au + theinsyder.com

The Controversy

The hoverboard craze isn’t only confined to pending courtroom litigation. On Monday, the UK’s Crown Prosecution Service deemed the riding of hoverboards to be “illegal.” – deeming them too unsafe to ride on the road, but too dangerous to ride on the pavement, according to legislation.

There have been several other high-profile instances where hoverboards have been at the center of the action. In September, a video went viral showing a man performing the tawaf on a hoverboard while on pilgrimage to Mecca.

In October, an 18-year-old victim of a Philadelphia robbery saw his hoverboard stolen at gunpoint – in addition to his wallet and iPhone.

The most high-profile instance of a hoverboard-related arrest belongs to Wiz Khalifa who was arrested in August of this year at LAX after not following the directions of U.S. border agents who demanded he stop riding his preferred means of transportation. “Haven’t been slammed and cuffed in a while. That was fun,” he tweeted.

image credit: justjared.com + linkis.com

The Celebrity Endorsers

While Wiz Khalifa’s run-in with the law makes him one of the most prominent enthusiasts, the list of celebrities that are literally riding the trend include Justin Bieber, Skrillex, Diplo, Meek Mill, Jamie Foxx, Stephen Curry, Cara Delevingne and Kendall Jenner.

Souljaboy even took his love of hoverboards so far that he even began selling his own version; the aptly-titled Souljaboad which retail for $1,500 USD.

featured/main image credit: Repbeast.ru

Words by Alec Banks
Features Editor

Alec Banks is a Los Angeles-based long-form writer with over a decade of experience covering fashion, music, sports, and culture.

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