has taken on a life of its own. It can now tell you if it has strayed too far, or if you’ve packed too much, and it may soon be able to call you an Uber car. There’s even a suitcase
in the works that will take you on a ride through the airport.
has been a pretty sleepy product category. The industry’s last major innovation came nearly 50 years ago, when wheels and a telescoping handle were added to suitcases. Since then, improvements have been incremental, focusing on lighter-weight materials, interior layouts and manoeuvrability.
Now, suitcases are getting a host of technical features, introduced for the most part by start-up companies and sometimes paid for with crowdfunding.
Three types of features dominate this first wave of “smart luggage”. There are ports and chargers to re-power a phone or other electronic device. There are GPS trackers that work with a cell phone to pinpoint your luggage’s location or to notify you if it has left your side. There is also a set of features focused on making travelling
easier, like electronic baggage
tags that allow customers to skip luggage
check-in lines at the airport and built-in scales to help travellers
avoid fees for checked bags that exceed the weight limit.
Luggage, which started with an Indiegogo campaign in 2014, is so focused on the “smart” aspects of its offerings that it prefers to be called a technology company, not a luggage
company, its chief executive, Tomi Pierucci, said.
bags include a digital scale and GPS tracking. The suitcase
can be locked by a cell phone app and it automatically locks if it is too far from the owner’s cell phone. The company has sold 35,000 suitcases.
But the objective of Bluesmart
goes beyond its individual technical features, Pierucci said. He wants to create an ecosystem to help people “avoid the pain in travel”, he said, by using the accompanying phone app as an online travel information hub.
“We want to remind you to charge the suitcase
the night before your trip,” he explained. “We want to offer you an Uber when your plane lands. We want to notify your hotel if your flight is delayed.”
keep their suitcases an average of three years before buying a new one, Pierucci said, but Bluesmart’s software and firmware upgrades can deliver new features and new partnerships to customers as they are developed. And any luggage
connected to an app can record when each feature is used, reporting that data back to the company to inform future product iterations.
Stephanie Korey, a co-founder and the chief executive of the new luggage
company Away, said she liked to call her suitcases “thoughtful” rather than “smart”. The one-year-old company has already sold 75,000 pieces of luggage.
Korey said she and her partner, Jen Rubio, looked at solving customer problems, like recharging a dying phone, keeping smelly clothes away from clean ones or designing wheels that make it easy to roll over cobblestones. “We think about how people pack, what they do at the airport, what they do when they arrive at a hotel,” she said.
Korey also shies away from the “luggage
company” moniker. “We’re a travel company,” she said. “Once we establish trust with a customer, and they like what we’re doing, we can start creating other travel products for them,” like travel accessories or organisers that would go inside luggage.
Other new luggage-tech ideas include the Fugu Travel suitcase, which expands from carry-on to full-size suitcase
using an internal air pump. The company just began shipping its first products to those who pre-ordered the bag or donated to the effort via Kickstarter.
© 2017 New York Times News Service