Pack to the Fu­ture

New lug­gage trends are tech­nol­ogy driven

Business Traveler (USA) - - FRONT PAGE - By Jenny Southan

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.”

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