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Everywhere You Can (And Can't) Ride Your Hoverboard In Chicago

By Justin Freeman in News on Feb 16, 2016 3:45PM

This isn't the future we were promised. But at the same time, it sorta is.

We were promised an age of technological wonders—think jetpacks, flying cars and virtual reality—from sci-fi classics such as the whimsically optimistic Back to the Future 2 and the oppressive cyberpunk dystopia of Blade Runner. And of course, we were promised hoverboards.

Many of these retro-futuristic promises are slowly becoming reality, if they aren't already. Virtual reality has gone mainstream thanks to the Oculus Rift. Jetpacks aren't happening anytime soon (if ever), but Elon Musk's SpaceX *almost* landed a rocket on a drone ship in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. We're probably never getting those flying cars, but we're probably just a few years away from getting autonomous cars that can drive themselves. Chief Keef shows keep getting shut down in part because the authorities believe a hologram to be a public menace and threat. Meanwhile, hoverboards have become the new craze and are blowing up, both figuratively and literally.

Hoverboards, or at least an approximation of them, have appeared over the last few years as the hot new thing. But whether or not these devices are truly hoverboards is an extremely divisive topic. The concept of a hoverboard is that it's supposed to be essentially a skateboard that hovers in the air without wheels. These devices are not that. They have large wheels, which arguably defeats the entire point, and are more like a weird handleless Segway thing. It's smart marketing. We get it. Nobody would probably rush out to buy a Personal Handleless Motorized Transportation Vehicle, but call it a "hoverboard" and everyone will lose their minds.

Hoverboards have unfortunately been plagued with problems, mainly batteries catching on fire, and a near-deafening outcry of safety concerns has resulted from the injuries, deaths and property damage that have come in their wake. In December, Amazon and several major retailers stopped selling them and colleges around the country are currently banning them.

What's going on is that hoverboards are having problems with the lithium-ion batteries they use as a powering source and are exploding.

According to a recent NPR interview with Jay Whitacre
, a Professor of Materials Science & Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, lithium-ion batteries contain flammable electrolytes. Lithium-ion batteries aren't inherently bad and are usually safe. Your smartphone and your laptop for example, these devices use high quality batteries safely. From an engineering point of view, hoverboards require more power than your smartphone and therefore require more batteries. When you add that some manufacturers could be using cheap, shitty batteries in an apparent attempt to boost profits, problems emerge.

To reduce fire hazards, Whitacre recommends that you not only don't overcharge your hoverboard, but also don't charge or use your hoverboard indoors.

That's not the only problem. So many people have fallen of a hoverboard while trying to ride it, #hoverboardfails has become a trending topic on Twitter. Most of these incidents have been minor, but hospitals are seeing a growing amount of injuries related to people falling.

"People are trying to balance on these small boards, they fall forward, put their hands out and that's how you break your wrist or they fall back and onto their rear and back of their elbow," Dr. Mark Cohen of Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush Hospital recently told ABC7.

#hoverboard #knockout #MikeTysonBreaksBack #imtoooldforthisshit @getcyboard

A video posted by Mike Tyson (@miketyson) on

Yet somehow there continues to be a market for the hoverboards—even ones of questionable origins. U.S. Customs and Border Protection seized over 16 thousand counterfeit hoverboards with a street value of over 6 million dollars during a recent bust here in Chicago. With safety concerns at a fever pitch, hoverboards have become a priority Customs. The agency has conducted raids throughout the country in an effort to stop poor quality boards from entering the country.

With all the safety concerns and potential injuries, what are the hoverboard rules here in Chicago? Let's find out:

Metra: Hoverboards are banned from entering the trains.

CTA: Hoverboards are prohibited on CTA vehicles, a spokesperson confirmed to us. Meanwhile, it was recently announced that New York City has banned them from public transportation citywide.

Midway / O'Hare: Hoverboards are not listed as a prohibited item by the TSA. Several airlines have banned them though. We reach out to the airports and their spokesperson told us via email that “we strongly discourage passengers from bringing hoverboards to Chicago’s airports.”

We also looked at some of the major event venues around the city, and here's what we learned:

Solider Field: The Bears do not list hoverboards as a prohibited item.

Wrigley Field: The Cubs do not list hoverboards as a prohibited item.

Navy Pier: The use of hoverboards and other "personal transportation devices " are not allowed.

Even though hoverboards aren't explicitly disallowed by these venues, we have to wonder who really needs to be told that it's inappropriate to ride one in a stadium full of of people and probably not a good idea to bring it with you? In this brave new world that we inhabit, hoverboard etiquette is at least partially a common sense issue.

And as for college campuses:

Northwestern: Hoverboards have been banned from all campus buildings.

Loyola: Hoverboards have been banned from all campus buildings.

DePaul: Hoverboards have been banned from all campus buildings.

Columbia: They’ve yet to adopt a formal policy regulating hoverboards.

University of Chicago: They’ve yet to adopt a formal policy regulating hoverboards.

UIC: Hoverboards have been banned from all campus buildings.

We also contacted the city's Department of Transportation. They told us via email that "CDOT does not oversee any regulations for [hoverboards]." Then we hit up the Chicago Police Department. They recommended that we look at the city's Municipal Code. Nothing explicitly about hoverboards is said, but we found some regulation about skateboards, Segways and other "toy vehicles:"

9-80-200 Toy vehicles. (b) No person shall ride a skateboard upon any roadway or sidewalk in a business district. (c) No person upon roller skates, or riding in or by means of any coaster, skateboard , toy vehicle, or similar device, shall go upon any roadway except while crossing a street on a crosswalk and when so crossing such person shall be granted all the rights and shall be subject to all the duties applicable to pedestrians. This section shall not apply upon any street while set aside as a play street

Hoverboards are not explicitly mentioned, but the gist of the law seem to be "don't be a dumbass and ride your vehicle in the street or crowded sidewalk, whatever that vehicle may be." The full set of laws can be seen here.

The technology has improved enough so that a major selling point as CES this year was that companies are starting to release hoverboards that don't burst into flames. Also, some companies are hard at work trying to make hoverboards that actually hover in the air. Maybe the future is bright for hoverboards after all. Or maybe they'll flame out as a fad and five years from now we'll look back at hoverboards with the same slight amusement and embarrassment reserved for QR codes and Google Glass.

Who knows what the future has in store for hoverboards. What a time to be alive.