COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | PHIL BAKER

Luggage that can tell you where it is

The Travel Goods Show, a yearly industry trade show, was held in March. It’s a showcase for new travel products and is notable for some interesting and even wacky gadgets. Over the years I’ve seen inflatable mattresses that claim to make a coach class seat as comfortable as a business class seat, fold-up blankets with anti-germ coatings, back-of-the-seat organizers, and luggage with a built-in table and chair.

This year’s show in March in Las Vegas was notable for several examples of building technology into suitcases.

Planet Traveler has developed a hard-sided plastic suitcase that includes everything but the kitchen sink — the SpaceCase1 has a built-in biometric lock, luggage tracking, a built-in scale, a Bluetooth speaker, battery pack and charging ports. It also claims to be the first suitcase with its own app to control some of these features.

The company is beginning a Kickstarter funding campaign May 18 with promotional pricing beginning at $199. (www.planettravelerusa.com)

One area of promising technology is being able to track your luggage after you check it in. Several companies are introducing gadgets to do just that. Typically they use GPS or cellular phone apps to let you to find the luggage using your smart phone. Most are designed to turn off when the plane takes off and turn back on when the plane lands to comply with FAA regulations.

LugLoc’s tracker uses GSM cellular and costs $70, but you need to pay extra to use it. Traces, which are like queries on the app, cost $10 for ten, meaning you need to pay $1 each time you use the app to check on your luggage’s whereabouts. And the traces you buy expire after one year. It seems likes it’s taking a cue from airlines that charge for extras. (www.lugloc.com)

Trakdot has a similar product, but gets dinged for short battery life and poor location accuracy. It costs $50 plus $20 per year for service. (trakdot.com)

I’ve contacted these and others companies, but they either have no samples available to test, did not respond or have yet to ship their product. My guess is they’re still getting the kinks out.

Bluesmart, a Silicon Valley startup, is developing a hard-sided suitcase with several built-in capabilities, including location tracking. In addition is a Bluetooth lock, USB battery charging, a scale and proximity sensor, should you become separated from your suitcase, all controlled from an app. The company raised $2 million dollars on the Indiegogo funding site. They promise to be shipping by the end of the year. Cost of the suitcase is about $450, less if you commit now.

Not only startups are eying this business. Samsonite and Samsung are working together to develop their own smart bag that will be able to send you an instant message when it is unloaded from the plane and reaches the carousel.

Not to be outdone, Andiamo unveiled its iQ technology luggage at the Travel Goods Show. It includes an app for your smartphone that includes a remote lock/unlock, a digital scale that measures and displays the weight of your case on your smartphone, a Wi-Fi hotspot with international Wi-Fi access when you buy a local SIM card at your international destination and insert it into the suitcase’s card slot.

There’s also a USB battery charger that uses a built-in removable battery pack. A distance alert sends a text message to your smartphone if the case moves 100 feet away from you or if it is coming off the ramp toward you, using its Bluetooth capability. The suitcase will be available this fall at $700.

But let’s get real. Do we really want our luggage to do all of this? Are we now going to need to charge our luggage each time we travel? When I arrive at the hotel, I put my bag on a bed or luggage rack and live out of it.

I don’t want to stand it up so I can listen to the speakers or charge my phone. And it seems strange to use my phone to prevent losing my luggage, when it’s likely the phone will be lost first.

I don’t think these companies have really thought this through or asked travelers what they want. If my bag were lost, would I go up to the baggage counter and tell them that I know my bag is in Chicago and not San Diego? Would that do any good? Would they think I’m clairvoyant? Most airlines don’t lose your bags; they send it on the wrong plane, and know exactly where it is. But others disagree.

My wife, Jane, thinks that luggage that can be tracked is a wonderful idea, recalling several times when her checked bag took a few days to reach her while on vacation. Of course, she’s rarely able to travel with only a carry-on bag. For me, the best way not to lose my luggage is to avoid checking it.

*****

Baker is the author of "From Concept to Consumer," published by Financial Times Press. Send comments to phil.baker@sddt.com. Comments may be published online or as Letters to the Editor.

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