Smart suitcases that can charge your phone

Travelling cases now come with electronic tags, tracking devices and digital weighing scales

Luggage began as little more than storage boxes with handles that people carted around as they travelled from one place to another.

Today, the travel accessory has come a long way, with luggage brands rolling out smart products for the digitally savvy traveller.

Smart functions include tracking devices to help locate lost bags - a bugbear of travellers for decades, mobile charging and the ability to tellthe bag's weight without having to heave it onto a scale.

Naturally, these features come with bigger price tags.

Prices for a smart suitcase start at $200 and can go up to about $2,000 for premium brands.

Some of the companies offering these suitcases are new entrants to the market and are backed by crowdfunding websites.


A bag from Fugu Luggage inflates from a carry-on size to a full-sized suitcase with the help of a built-in pump; a luggage locator is available as an add-on. PHOTO: FUGU LUGGAGE

American start-up Bluesmart raised more than US$2 million (S$2.8 million) from more than 10,000 backers on crowdfunding site Indiegogo. US start-up Trunkster collected about US$1.4 million from 3,500 investors through Kickstarter.

Their suitcases have built-in tracking devices and digital weighing scales.

Bluesmart shipped its bags to backers late last year, while Trunkster did so in July this year.

Not to be outdone by young startups, established brands have also come up with their own smart suitcases.

Last month, German luggage maker Rimowa, which has a history of more than 115 years, rolled out the Rimowa Electronic Tag line of luggage here.

The bags come with built-in electronic tags and allow users to check in their luggage from home.

Users key into the Rimowa app their boarding information, which is transferred to the luggage via Bluetooth.

The details are reflected on a display panel on the side of the bag, where airlines normally stick a paper luggage tag.

Besides saving paper, the electronic tag also saves time as travellers can head directly to the baggage drop-off upon reaching the airport.

Rimowa's president and chief executive Dieter Morszeck, 63, says he has been using the smart suitcases since March when German national carrier Lufthansa began supporting the service.

Taiwanese Eva Air will also get onboard on Dec 1. Mr Morszeck says the company is in the "test phase" with several other airlines.

Prices for Rimowa's luggage line with electronic tags range from$1,090 to $2,430, about $120 more than the brand's regular bags.

Samsonite has collaborated with Google to launch Track&Go, a beacon device that allows a bag to be easily and privately tracked by its owner through an app.

The American luggage maker aims to launch the first suitcases featuring this technology in the European market by the end of the year and in Asia by the end of next year.

Mr Satish Peerubandi, general manager of Samsonite Singapore, says: "This collaboration with Google is a key step in taking our technology to the next level."

Blogger Christabel Chua, 25, who lost her luggage while travelling back from Las Vegas earlier this year, says she is looking forward to the launch of Samsonite's Track&Go range.

"It's exciting to hear that technology could make missing luggage a thing of the past," she says.


Lost luggage may be a thing of the past

Here are some smart suitcases:

FUGU LUGGAGE

The suitcase is named after the Japanese word for pufferfish. Just like the marine fish, the bag can inflate, with the help of a built-in pump, taking it from carry-on size to a full-sized suitcase.

It is the brainchild of Israeli Isaac Atlas, who launched a Kickstarter campaign with a few partners in 2014 to raise money for the suitcase to go into mass production.

The project drew more than 1,500 backers who pledged about $434,000, but the bag could not be rolled out by the promised date last year due to various hiccups.

According to a company spokesman, production of Fugu Luggage in China is expected to be completed by the end of the month.

Shipping will start shortly afterwards.

The spokesman adds that after the United States, the most number of orders came from Singapore.

Fugu Luggage can be bought at fuguluggage.com for US$299 (S$421). According to the website, shipping to Singapore costs US$45 a piece.

Accessories such as a luggage locator, which helps to track your bag, and shelving are available as add-ons.


RADEN

Travellers can weigh this smart suitcase from home, track its location and charge their devices with it.

The Raden comes with a built-in battery that can charge a mobile phone up to four times via two charging ports on the bag's exterior.

It also has a built-in scale and GPS technology.

When paired with the Raden app, travellers will also be given useful information such as traffic alerts and weather conditions at their destinations.

The suitcase, created by the company's founder and CEO Josh Udashkin, took two years to develop.

The American used to be a lawyer and was previously director of international development at Canadian shoe brand Aldo.

Raden suitcases were first launched on Raden.com in March.

Within four months, the company crossed the US$2-million mark in sales and a company spokesman says it is "on track" to hit sales of between US$10 million and US$12 million by the first fiscal year.

He adds that the company has received "countless requests" from people in Singapore.

Interested buyers can go to net-a-porter.com or mrporter.com to place their orders.

Raden's suitcases are priced at US$295 for a carry-on size, US$395 for a check-in size and US$595 for both.


RIMOWA ELECTRONIC TAG

Using an E-Ink (electronic ink) display - similar to the technology that powers Amazon's Kindle e-reader - German premium luggage label Rimowa has created an electronic tag that looks exactly like an airline's bar code paper label.

The electronic tag not only saves paper, but also helps to prevent bags from getting misplaced or delayed as a result of paper tags getting tangled and crunched up.

Travellers can check in their luggage from home as their boarding details can be easily transferred from the Rimowa mobile app via Bluetooth to a display panel on the side of the luggage.

The app also enables users to track the location of their luggage.

The bags, priced from $1,090 to $2,430, are available at Rimowa stores here at Mandarin Gallery, The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands and Suntec City.


SAMSONITE TRACK&GO

In April, American luggage giant Samsonite announced the launch of Track&Go, a beacon device that will be built into its suitcases.

With the device, a case can be easily and privately tracked by its owner.

The beacon has to be registered by the suitcase owner through the Travlr by Samsonite app.

When the app is launched, users will be able to check the location of their suitcases within 70m.

They will also be notified if their bags are moved nearer to or further away from them.

Should the suitcase go missing, the owner can flag it as lost via the app.

The app will then tap on its network of users and attempt to locate the bag.

Samsonite plans to launch the Track&Go bags in Asia by the end of next year.

Bryna Singh

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 13, 2016, with the headline 'Smart suitcases ready to take off'. Print Edition | Subscribe