Tech trends for 2017: Smart luggage

With technology that solves the problems of modern travel, smart luggage is set to improve journeys and shake up the travel industry throughout 2017…

Since the advent of wheeled suitcases in the 1970s, the luggage industry has rolled on with little development. Now, cases and carry-ons are being updated with established technologies to ease the worries that modern travellers face each time they set foot in an airport.

US start-up Bluesmart was the first to grasp the potential for technology to improve a traveller’s most important possession (barring passports and tickets of course).

After crowdfunding the product on Indiegogo – and raising more than $2.2m from over 10,000 backers – in December 2015 Bluesmart started shipping a pioneering carry-on that can weigh contents with an internal scale, track its own location using an inbuilt SIM card and GPS, charge devices with a concealed battery pack, and be remotely locked and unlocked using a paired mobile app.

With Bluesmart sitting as the most lucrative crowdfunding project ever seen for a travel product, it didn’t take long for other companies to follow suit. Tracking, digital scales and battery packs have become smart luggage staples, with an increasing number of start-ups such as Trunkster and Andiamo taking to crowdfunding sites while big brands like Samsonite are building their own versions.

In this rapidly-evolving market, competitors are keen to keep innovating. Planet Traveler’s crowdfunded Space Case 1 features relatively new functions; including a biometric fingerprint authentication lock, an inbuilt Bluetooth speaker and microphone that wirelessly plays music and takes hands-free phone calls, a foghorn-esque alarm that sounds if the case is unexpectedly moved, and a connected ‘personal concierge’ mobile app through which wanderers can not only check their flight status and book their next journey, but also browse car rental and accommodation options at their destination.

With digital age travellers increasingly organising trips online instead of dealing with travel agents, apps like Planet Traveler’s are more relevant than ever. In recognition of this, German case company Horizn Studios have developed a smart cabin trolley that includes membership with Travel Assistant; Horizn’s travel advice and booking assistance service that allows members to instantly converse with travel experts through email and SMS.

The pace of innovation transforming the luggage industry is showing no signs of plateauing. With Modobag currently developing a motorised case that you can ride around the airport – as fun as it sounds – and Cowarobot crowdfunding a suitcase that propels itself along after you, it’s clear that luggage will never be the same again.

How it works

In many cases, the tracking function common to the majority of smart luggage uses GPS to pinpoint the bag’s location. GPS receivers, which are usually either built into the luggage or provided as a removable tag, gather microwave signal transmissions from the Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS), a network of at least 24 satellites.

By receiving signals – which contain information about the location of the satellites and the time measured by an internal clock – from at least three satellites, the receiver (the suitcase) can use a process called trilateration to calculate its own location and share this information with a paired smartphone app.

Stefan Holwe, founding partner at Horizn Studios, explains why luggage has been long overdue an update: “The global luggage market is a classic sleeping giant, with tremendous growth and attractive margins on the one side, but on the other side nearly no innovation dynamic. Dominated by one player – Samsonite – the entire market is extremely traditional and completely wholesale-driven.

“The market’s online penetration is extremely low with only 8% in Europe. And there is actually no brand in place that is aspirational to the next generation of travellers, the digital nomads. It was about time to shake the market up a little.

“We live in an age of hyper-mobility and hyper-connectivity. We are constantly on the move, planning or making trips. And we are constantly connected with each other – and soon also with our things. The great thing about our generation is also that consumers have so much choice today, that they learn to challenge the status quo more than ever before, and head for the products that are actually the most relevant to them.

“At Horizn we are convinced that the ideal symbiosis of design, high quality and technology serves the modern travellers best. Why should my luggage not live in the same digital age like I do, and help me to charge my mobile devices, come with a travel assistant service and always be traceable?”

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