| Stefan Weissenborn |
BERLIN (dpa) – Besides getting wheels, luggage hasn’t seen a lot of innovation over the decades.
However, that might be about to change as the “Internet of things” makes its presence felt in the world of the humble suitcase.
Smart luggage is starting to appear in airport lounges and terminals – that is, luggage equipped with digital technology.
The range of functionality is broad, from mobile phone charging capacity to GPS tracking.
For example, Berlin start-up Horizn Studios sells luggage that connects to your smartphone via Bluetooth.
An alarm will sound if the distance between your suitcase and your phone is more than 30 metres.
“Our goal is to make travel more comfortable and carefree,” founder Stefan Holwe says.
Other companies are also trying to bring as much digital intelligence as possible to luggage.
US company BlueSmart offers a suitcase that locks itself when it’s a certain distance from the owner.
It also has a built-in weighing scale that will display the weight on your smartphone.
Another US company, Planet Traveler, offers a “networked suitcase”.
Called Space Case 1, it can be opened and closed using a biometric fingerprint.
It also has a built-in Bluetooth speaker for playing music or making phone calls, and an app that works as a concierge service, for example, by announcing airport gate openings.
The Geotrakr suitcase from Samsonite – the world’s largest luggage brand – couples a tracking function with a speedometer that allows the case to detect when it’s in flight, so that it shuts down to avoid interfering with the aircraft’s electronics.
This case is reserved for the US market, but for customers elsewhere, the company offers a case with a tracking function and distance alarm that works via Bluetooth.
This autumn, Delsey – the second-biggest luggage maker after Samsonite – is launching its own smart luggage that will tell you via an app when your suitcase arrives on the luggage belt.
But who really needs all this?
It’s a matter of taste.
In addition to the limitation of the batteries, there’s also the question of how much smart luggage will weigh and how much that will leave for the contents of the case.
Professor Ulrich Reinhardt from the BAT Foundation for Future Questions in Germany believes people will buy smart luggage because of the bling factor, but will rarely use it.
“You might use it three times to find out where exactly the suitcase is.”
After that, the novelty will probably wear off.
Some of the innovations might have more practical benefits.
German manufacturer Rimowa is offering a suitcase with an electronic tag which can be used to check in the bag from home via an airline app.
Instead of a sticker showing that it has been checked in, the bag will use a digital display.
The vision is of fully automatic drop-off stations where the case will be automatically weighed and then sent off in the right direction for the flight.
Currently only Lufthansa and Eva Air are using e-tags, but United, Condor and Thomas Cook are in the test phase, Rimowa says.
And then there’s the R1, a self-propelled suitcase being developed by Chinese company Cowarobot.
It will follow its owner using a smartphone connection and sensors will help it to avoid obstacles.
The case is currently behind schedule, but a company spokesperson said it will be coming to market soon.