Smart Luggage Hacked!

Posted by Zaid August 13, 2015 0 Comment 3378 views

In this IoT (Internet of Things) age where everything is connected there’s recently been quite a bit of hype on the smart luggage products that are currently on the market or in development (available for pre-order). The products on offer are generally available in 2 sizes: carry-on cabin luggage and a larger sized check-in luggage, in a variety of materials, each with a number of integrated technical solutions.

Who is this targeted at, is it worth the price, and are there alternatives available? Below is my view on some of the popular products that are generating hype in the media and how to hack together your own smart luggage:

Space Case 1

 Planet Traveler claims that they have designed the worlds most high-tech suitcase with features including:

  • 100% Polycarbonate casing (lightweight / durable)
  • TSA approved Digital Biometric Lock (fingerprint locking for up to 5 travellers),
  • Bluetooth speaker and microphone built into the bag,
  • Bluetooth Proximity Sensor / Anti-theft Alerts (when your phone is beyond 12m of the app, an alarm will ring through the Bluetooth speakerphone)
  • “Personal Concierge” that you control through your smart phone with the Planet Traveler app (for iOS and Android) with on demand information for departure and arrival times & gates, book flights, hotels, car rentals and more
  • Three USB charging ports, 12000mAh (2 external, 1 internal in carry-on laptop compartment only).
  • 10 Year cloud protection (use the app to take a pic and submit a claim of a damaged item. They’ll ship you a replacement part that you can self-install within 5 minutes)
  • No-subscription “worldwide” GPS Tracking.
  • Digital scale integrated into the wheels, so no lifting is necessary.

The carry-on is 19.5″/49.5cm long, estimated at 3.9kg and should retail at $600 each. The check-in bag is 29″/73.6cm long, estimated at 4.9kg and should retail at $700 each.

The bags are available in the following colors / textures: Polished Black, Polished Silver, Polished Pink, Prado “Butterfly Fusion”, Prado “In Love”, Stealth Black, Raw Carbon Fiber Texture and Brushed Aluminium texture. The latter 2 are priced higher.

I can’t find any information on how the GPS technology works. I suspect it’s only Bluetooth-based (in order to relay to you its location)

Blue Smart

 Bluesmart is a 21.5 inches (54.61 cm) long polycarbonate carry-on luggage that weighs approximately 3.5kg.

It features:

  • 10000mAh power bank with 2 USB charging points
  • Digital scale built into the handle (you have to lift it to determine the weight)
  • Rolling wheels
  • Proximity notification (via bluetooth to your smartphone)
  • An app with trip data information
  • A special compartment with easy exterior access to your electronics
  • A TSA approved digital smart lock (that can be controlled by an iOS or Android app)
  • Location tracking via Bluetooth (which searches for the luggage within Bluetooth proximity of your smartphone or the smartphone of another Blue Smart luggage user) or 3G/GSM (through Bluesmart’s partnership with Telefonica which has roaming agreements in 120 countries).
  • Partnership with Uber to locate and return your lost luggage to you (in certain countries)

Bluesmart is expected to retail for $495. It’s currently available on pre-order for $349.

The company has not finalised its warranty policy. Their website states: “Just so you know, the industry standard for similar products is a one-year limited warranty (two years for EU consumers). We are likely to reflect a similar policy so our users can enjoy the same warranty protection as that provided by other leading tech products.”

Trunkster

Operating like roll-up blinds Trunkster have designed a zipper less luggage.

It’s a waterproof, drop proof and impact resistant luggage available in 2 sizes:

  • Carry-on: 22 inch (55cm) long 3,6kg luggage ($325 pre-order, estimated retail $500 excl. $40 GPS device)
  • Check-in: 27 inch (69cm_ long, 4,5lg luggage.($350 pre-order, estimated retail $600 excl. $40 GPS device)

It also features:

  • 10 400mAh power bank (3amp output)
  • Location tracking with GSM and GPS technology that has no subscription fee but comes with 3 free traces
  • A wider handle for easier control when rolling the bag
  • Built in digital scale

The warranty statement on their site: “We offer a full manufacturer’s warranty against defects and will replace / refund as necessary. At this time, we do not offer change of mind returns.”

Other smart luggage products available are the Delsey Pluggage and the Barracuda

For self-propelled options you could look at the Micro Luggage Reloaded or the skate-board inspired Thrive Traveler Luggage.

So, are these smart luggage products worth it or not?

I don’t think they are. The spec sheet for these expensive products look super cool. However:

Target Market:

These smart luggage solutions only seem to be targeting business travelers for airplane travel to cities that are well connected. When visiting a new city my general advice is to tuck away your Rolex, flashy jewellery and electronics to avoid becoming a victim of theft or worse. Are you not painting yourself as a target by flashing your new stylish and pricey luggage?

Warranty:

With the exception of the Smart Case 1, I’m quite disappointed with the warranties available. Luggage is something I purchase for the long-run. I expect at least 7 years of service from it but as we all know you’re lucky if your electronics last more than 2 years. I looked at some of the individual alternate tech gadget warranties – the suppliers generally only provide 1 or 2 years warranty on the electronics.

3 years from now you don’t want to be travelling with malfunctioning or outdated tech in your luggage.

Location Tracking:

This was a feature that I was most interested in.

Some of the tracking solutions depend on tracking infrastructure or telecom partnerships being available in the cities your bag will travel to. I’m not sure if the tracking technology will help if you’re planning a road-trip out of the city where you get hijacked and your luggage is stolen. Even if your luggage was mistakenly sent to Tolmachevo Airport in Siberia and you are able to track it, I’m not sure how easy it would be to get the bag back in your hands.

A GPS device is used to identify the co-ordinates of its current location. I’m not 100% certain if the GPS device will successfully get a signal within the luggage sorting area of the airport (My Garmin watch and Sony Xperia Z3 smartphone’s GPS do not work indoors).

For you to receive a notification on your smartphone (which is hopefully not in the luggage) of where the missing luggage is, I only know of 3 methods:

1. Bluetooth

With Bluetooth you can communicate with something that is up to 30 meters away. This technology is employed for the proximity alert feature. Some of the luggage requires airports to install Bluetooth beacons which can communicate with a Bluetooth device embedded within your luggage. If your smartphone cannot find your luggage, other smart luggage users (with the same luggage brand) may be able to detect it within vicinity of their smartphones and relay the co-ordinates to your smartphone (via GSM or a WiFi internet connection).

2. GSM

Some of these products have a 3G sim-card within it that relies on cellular networks to relay information via sms to your smartphone. The sim-card provider needs to have a roaming agreement with partner networks worldwide. There may or may not be a subscription fee, location requests may be limited (before a fee applies), and most importantly: it will only work where there is cell phone reception and a data roaming agreement with that cell-phone network exists.

With all these GSM options though, I’m not sure if airlines will complain when the device is not in Airplane Mode and hence interferes with the planes electronics (not all the luggage manufacturers devices automatically go into sleep mode).

3. Off-the-Grid GPS or RF Tracking beacons

These solutions don’t rely on GSM. They’re typically found in car tracking products and emergency personal locator beacons (used by the military or real explorers who venture into hazardous territories). These devices are costly, require subscription and the number of free trace requests is limited.

I don’t believe any of these smart luggage products utilise this technology

Weight

Although they use lightweight material, these bags are still quite heavy (it might be from all the additional gadgets). I think you should buy each component that you really need separately.

Alternative Options / Recommendations for you to hack together your own smart luggage:

  1. Buy the right type of luggage to suit your style of travel (click here to look at various types of suitcases and backpacks).
  2. Just buy the accessories that you’ll need, and only carry it when you need it (to lighten your luggage):
  • Luggage scale

Portable luggage scales aren’t a new invention. It’s been available on the market for many years. You can buy them at a low price and choose to carry it with you when necessary.

  

  • Power bank

I’d be surprised if anyone in this day and age with multiple tech gadgets doesn’t own a power bank. To me it doesn’t make sense to integrate it into your luggage. If you need a boost and your bag is stowed away will you fetch your bag and connect your devices to it while in transit? It’s like carrying around a portable fridge to keep your drinks cold while on the move. Use ice instead!

In this case, just get yourself a pocket-sized power bank. Click here for my tips on selecting the right power bank, with recommendations.

  • GPS technology

a. Bluetooth:

You can purchase these Bluetooth devices independently if you’re interested:

    

b. GSM:

If you have an old smartphone or tablet with tracking technology you could use your “Find my X phone” app to locate it?

You can also purchase these gadgets:

  • LugLoc (which uses Bluetooth and GSM technology and costs $70, with additional search fees),
  • Trakdot Luggage Tracker, a GSM device that texts and emails users the location of their checked suitcase when their plane lands. The device costs $69. There is also an additional annual or lifetime service fee.

c. Off-the-Grid GPS or RF Tracking beacons

If you’re interested in getting these devices to track your luggage, or have others track you while you’re on a mission, check out these solutions that do not rely on a GSM / cellular network.

ACR PLB-375 ResQLink+ Personal Locating Beacon with 406 MHz Floating PLB, Built-In GPS, Strobe and 121 MHz Homing BeaconSPOT 3 Satellite GPS MessengerMcMurdo Fast Find 220 Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) 91-001-220A

These 3 products are the real deal when it comes to tracking gear or lives anywhere.

    

  • Packing compartments

These bags are all sold with multiple / smart packing compartments as a big selling point. How I prefer to travel is by using compression packing cubes where I group and pack / squeeze similar clothing items together. I can’t think of anything that’s more efficient with space within your luggage.

Click here for to read my luggage packing tips.

  • Personal Concierge

If you need a solution to track your distance, get gate notifications, make bookings, etc. use TripIt Travel Organizer and install the apps of your favorite reservation agencies on your phone (e.g. Booking.com’s app, Expedia app, Kayak app).

  • Digital Biometric lock

The only alternatives I can recommend are the TSA approved luggage locks. The digital biometric lock linked to your smartphone is a unique feature with these smart cases.

If you’re really interested in purchasing one of the smart luggage products:

I’d recommend you pre-order now while the prices are 40% to 50% below the expected retail price. To me the Space Case 1 is the best because of its warranty but I’m uncertain about how their GPS works as I haven’t received any feedback from the company or found any further details online. I suspect its location notification by Bluetooth only.

 

Cover image credit to Hernán Piñera for the photo titled Airport under CC-By SA 2.0 license

Write Your Comment

Recent Tweets

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.