Pack to the Future
New luggage trends are technology driven
T he nostalgic appeal of a Goyard steamer trunk with its chevronpatterned canvas exterior, buckles, studs and leather trim may never die, but in reality the needs of modern travelers have moved on. Nowadays, we are not only looking for light-weight, wheeled cases with zips and laptop compartments, but cabin-friendly dimensions, business-like aesthetics and built-in TSA locks. As luggage design evolves, manufacturers are beginning to come up with more high-tech innovations.
Some are more useful than others, of course. No businessperson is going to buy a suitcase that turns into a scooter or a sound-system (and these do exist), but we may be interested in a bag with a built-in solar panel or tracking device. The latter is of particular interest to both the industry and the consumer, with 26 million cases being mishandled by airlines every year.
In light of this, there are numerous projects underway to come up with a solution. One example is Tile (thetileapp.com), a tiny plastic homing device that can be attached to your luggage and wirelessly connects to a smartphone app via Bluetooth. Another, Bag2Go, is an “intelligent suitcase” being created in collaboration with Airbus, Rimowa, information communication technology company T-Systems and trade body IATA.
Bag2Go is fitted with a computer chip that syncs with a smartphone app to tell you where it is at any point on the journey (except during the flight) using GPS. It also has a built-in digital scale, a system that will notify you if your case has been opened or tampered with, and an e-ink display (like on a Kindle) with two barcodes – one containing your personal information and flight details, the other a unique identifier to replace the need for a separate bag tag at check-in.
In the future, all this may mean you can even have your case delivered to your hotel on arrival without you having to wait for it at the airport. Jan Reh, innovation cell manager for Airbus says: “We have built the first prototypes and are entering a try-out phase with airlines. We believe this will change the world in the next decade and we are targeting a price that is attractive to passengers.”
British Airways joined forces with design consultancy Designworks earlier this year to come up with an electronic bag tag (also with an e-ink screen). Although the product won’t be able to track your suitcase, customer trials among Microsoft employees using Nokia Lumia Windows phones began in October, in Heathrow T5. The phones all have a specially adapted version of the BA app on them, which automatically updates the tag in a single swipe with a unique barcode containing new flight details and the case’s destination.
Premium luggage manufacturer Tumi has also been busy. “We are looking at tracking devices and will be introducing something in the spring ,”says Alan Krantzler, senior vice-president of brand management for Tumi. “We are also looking at technologies that help our customers stay powered .”But not everything catches on.
“We actually did a solar backpack in collaboration with [sculptor] Anish Kapoor [in 2006],”says Krantzler. “But solar panels are not yet at the point where they are getting huge acceptance in the market mainly because they take a very long time to charge and our customers don’t have the patience and aren’t outdoors enough.
“We have also looked at built-in scales but have not yet found a solution that is durable enough, and we have stayed away from bags that are self-powered because there is a balance between adding too much technology to something that either raises the price or increases the weight.”
He adds: “Our customers have high expectations. We do a lot of wear testing before we introduce things so we are very in tune with what is going to work and what is going to just look good but not actually function.”