CES 2015

Hovertrax and the battle of the auto-balancing skateboards

Cheap accelerometer chips from the phone industry spur innovation in electric-powered transportation—and patent dust-ups

Published: January 07, 2015 10:00 PM
Hovertrax inventor Shane Chen at CES

A funny thing happened at a CES 2015 press event the other night. We walked into a crowded ballroom where companies were showing off their products, and saw what looked like the IO Hawk, an auto-balancing electric skateboard that's essentially a mini-Segway.

Except that it wasn’t the IO Hawk, but what appeared to be an identical product called the Hovertrax. The marketing executive we asked about it grimaced and said that her company, Inventist, owned the patents. Lawyers getting involved, we asked? Yep. Which just shows that no market segment is too tiny to engage in battles over intellectual-property rights.

Hovertrax was a Kickstarter project that launched on May 1, 2013, and was fully funded by the end of that June, having raised $85,744. The company founder is Shane Chen, a serial inventor who has built other self-balancing transportation gizmos. According to Chen, after the Kickstarter campaign launched, several other companies rushed to rip off his design, and he’s been playing legal whack-a-mole ever since.

We’re not ready to judge who’s in the right. One thing we can say is that these products demonstrate how inventions are benefiting from smart phone technology. The Hovertrax employs a set of accelerometer chips to perform its auto-balancing magic; Chen told us that the chips, which cost just $3 each, are built for use in phones. The chips sense when the rider’s weight shifts and prompt the device to adjust by activating its electric motors. 

The Hovertrax weighs 13 pounds, goes up to 6 mph, and travels eight miles on a charge. It takes a few minutes to get comfortable, but once you master the Hovertrax, it allows you swoop around with an elegance that no Segway rider has ever achieved. We didn’t capture video of the board in action, but if you're interested, watch our IO Hawk video. You’ll get the idea. 

—Jerry Beilinson

Click on the image above to find all of Consumer Reports' coverage from CES 2015.

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