When Did The First Hoverboard Come Out – While Chinese factories are producing copies, Shane Chen, who patented the original hoverboard, is optimistic. It’s “just a toy,” he says
Just before Christmas, with sales of hoverboards soaring as the must-have gadget of 2015, Shane Chen flew to China to confront his tormentors.
When Did The First Hoverboard Come Out
Chen is the man who developed and patented the hoverboard design four years ago in his US West Coast lab. With its two wheels, the “hoverboard” doesn’t quite live up to the promises of its “Back to the Future” namesake, but that hasn’t diminished its popularity.
Hali X Hoverboard
Hundreds of thousands of hoverboards have flown off the shelves; Celebrities have posted videos of themselves riding and falling off them. A Filipino priest even took part in the act and was immediately suspended for staging one during Christmas Eve mass.
Someone made a lot of money, but it wasn’t Chen. He marketed his design under the Hovertrax brand name, which sold for around $1,000. Cheap knockoffs made in Chinese factories have flooded the market for about a quarter the cost.
“We only made a few thousand,” Chen said. “I’ve been told there are more than 11,000 factories in China that make them. You made over a million.”
In December, Chen traveled to China to see for himself. “I have visited some of the imitation factories. In fact, they thanked me for having the imagination to invent it. They understand they infringed my patent, but they know there’s nothing I can do,” he said.
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So you didn’t get rich with your invention? “No, no,” he sighed. “If you look at history, inventors are usually poor. Other people make money. When we made the Hovertrax I was used to it because there are about six of my inventions that have been copied in the last 10 years.”
The offices of his company, Inventist, in the small town of Camas, Washington, are littered with the corpses of failed inventions, showing that Chen enjoys trying to get people moving. These include prototypes for various types of watercraft, bicycles with oddly welded-on limbs, a group of stripped-down motor scooters, and a device resembling a small World War I tank.
“It’s supposed to get skiers uphill. They put it in a backpack when they go skiing again. It works, but I was never happy with it, so I never put it on the market,” he said.
“I’m always inventing things. I usually work on five or six different things. Most fail, but I’m getting better. One in a hundred used to work. Now maybe one in five or ten.”
Hoverboards Under Attack
Among those that have paid off is a human-powered hydrofoil, the AquaSkipper, which has generated enough to fund other projects. He also made money from a scooter called the Powerwing and his first commercialized invention, an exercise machine, the body toner. But there was nothing quite like the hoverboard, and there almost never was.
It has its roots in the invention that Chen is most proud of and uses every day: a single motorized wheel with footplates on both sides, the Solowheel. The rider stands upright with nothing to hold onto or sit down to get hold of when a unicycle crosses paths with a Segway. At 16 km/h, it travels twice as fast as a hoverboard and is more practical to get around on the road thanks to its larger wheel equipped with a bicycle tire.
The problem, Chen said, is that people take a look and can’t figure out how they’re being left behind. Once her daughter demonstrated it at a fair when she put one on each foot. “Then she could turn around, stop, get back up,” he said. The idea of the hoverboard was born. He took the two wheels and connected them with a board. The design was modified through various prototypes, with the wheels being downsized and moved into the dashboard.
At first there was little interest. “We rolled around in it and nobody cared,” he said. He improved the design and took it to other shows, but it wasn’t until last year that the hoverboard really took off. “It has to exist long enough for everyone to want it. I saw a story nobody wanted when Thomas Edison invented the lightbulb. They told him that the flame of the lamp was better. You can see the problem,” he said.
Hoverboards: Why They Haven’t Got Off To A Mcflying Start
Chen wasn’t even that excited. He still thought the Solowheel was the best invention. “Hovertrax is just a toy to me. A toy for children, for adults. It is fun. But it cannot be used for transportation. That’s not practical,” he said.
But as soon as interest got the better of him, he lost control. “If you have a product that few are selling, it’s easy to prevent counterfeiting. If the product becomes too valuable, there’s nothing you can do,” he said. “It’s like a tsunami. Legal or illegal, they’ll just do it. It’s like drugs, marijuana.”
Still, Chen is bothered that large supermarkets and department stores make it easy for counterfeiters by selling fakes. “It’s very discouraging. The patent system doesn’t work if something is popular. With something like Hovertrax, the patent is almost worthless.”
Chen admits the problem is price. He has released a cheaper version that costs almost half of the original, but said it can only go so far. Counterfeits save on production costs with weaker motors and inferior batteries, but this causes them to be underpowered and unstable, increasing the likelihood of riders falling. They are also more likely to catch fire, which is why some airlines have banned them. “We explain to consumers that this has to be built safely. It can’t be that cheap. they don’t care, they want it and they want it cheap,” he said.
The ‘hoverboard’ Inventor Shane Chen Isn’t Bitter About Copycats
All of this is all the more frustrating given that Chen left China nearly three decades ago to move away from a system he felt was too restrictive before openly fighting. He worked in a Chinese government job for many years designing scientific instruments, but wanted to start his own business and decided the United States was the right place to do it. He moved in 1986, started a company developing scientific instruments but sold it five years ago to pursue what really interested him: making things up.
Chen has not given up on Hovertrax. But what interests him is the next big thing. He’s holding a plastic mess that looks like a salad bowl. It turns out to be a battery-powered water jet for a one-person hydrofoil. “You fly over the water with very little resistance. They use very little energy. I think this will replace the jet ski. The jet ski is loud and dangerous. It’s very calm,” he said. But it’s the bikes that really excite him.
“This is the best of my inventions,” he said, pushing a box labeled Lunicycle in front of him. It’s another unique bike, but with pedals. A unicycle with no stick or saddle.” They pedal while standing. The unicycle is very difficult to learn. It lasts about six months. People can learn this in half an hour. We just started selling them. We don’t know how to market it, how to tell people because people think it’s a unicycle,” he said, sounding genuinely surprised at the confusion. Having seen the popularity of these hoverboard-like devices increase, I’ve always been curious. about the true purpose they serve. Are they easy to assemble? How are they controlled? Are you really sure? How fast can they go? Various questions came to mind and I walked past them without too much emotion. I was fortunate to have one sent to me to review and report on my own thoughts. Of course I was curious, but I never expected to be so impressed!
The self balancing wheel comes in very attractive packaging and would make an ideal gift. Included in the box is the scooter itself, a wall plug charger, a warranty card and instructions.
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The first thing that struck me about the scooter was how heavy it was. It’s deceptively heavy, weighing just over 10kg. This only adds to the sturdiness and fantastic build quality. The scooter came with a bit of a charge so I used it right out of the box without having to charge it first. However, the charging time for a full battery is about 2 hours. The charging port is located under the device and is covered with a rubber dust cap. The instructions state that the scooter can go up to 20km on a single charge, although I haven’t tested it (yet!).
Processing and quality are at a very high level. With a strong white glossy polycarbonate exterior and rubber wheels, the device feels very sturdy. It has held up for the last week that I’ve used it
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