The killer feature of any smartphone isn’t its camera. It’s not the apps, the screen resolution, or the build quality either.
It’s the fact that it’s always on you—a trait that makes the other features much more significant. It’s a pocket computer, and the industry might be trying to replace or augment it with a face computer or a wrist computer, but a phone is likely to remain the essential device for decades. You need one.
You also need luggage, but luggage hasn’t exactly smartened up yet. At first glance, the idea of a “smart” bag packed with sensors, radios, and chips doesn’t seem necessary or logical. Does a roller bag really need cellular service, electronic locks, and an app to go with it? We’re only getting used to baggage-fee charges, and now we have to worry about charging our baggage?
But if tackled correctly, the “smart luggage” concept isn’t all that crazy. A startup called Bluesmart is trying to do it the right way. The company’s first product, a 21.5-inch carry-on bag that’s loaded with sensors and ports, will ship to its Indiegogo backers in August. It’s not just built to solve annoyances with bags and baggage handlers. It’s also designed to solve common woes with airports, airplanes, and lost luggage.
For example, finding a wall outlet that isn’t already five-deep with fellow travelers charging their own gear. The Bluesmart bag has a 10,000 mAh battery built into it, with a full-size USB port on top of the bag for charging up phones and tablets. You can also charge two devices at once or keep your tablet or phone juiced while it’s stowed in the overhead compartment. There’s a second USB charging interface on the inside of the bag, as well as separate padded compartments for a tablet and laptop.
The on-board battery will charge up a phone or a tablet, but it doesn’t put out enough power to charge a laptop; you’ll still need a wall outlet for that. And of course, you’ll also need to charge the bag’s battery between trips using a miniUSB port on the outside of the bag.
“The hard part about the technology is controlling (the bag’s other) features,” says Bluesmart co-founder Brian Chen. “We’ve set it so that there’s a 10-percent battery reserve. It’ll stop charging a phone when the bag’s battery hits 10 percent so the other things will continue to work.”Bluesmart
Those other battery-powered features sound amazing, too. You’ll purportedly have the ability to track your bag if it gets lost and see its location on your phone. Bluesmart says its bag includes 3G and GPS location tracking with free service, thanks to a deal the company struck with wireless provider Telefonica. If your bag gets lost, there’s even an option in the app to have Uber pick it up and bring it to your current location.
When paired with your phone via Bluetooth, the bag will also automatically lock when you step away from it. You can unlock it wirelessly with the sidecar app for iOS, Android, and Windows Phone, and to meet TSA-approved standards, it also has a standard key lock so security agents can search your bag.
All the tech components for Bluesmart’s bag are housed under a fixed handle on top of it, which also helps the carry-on gauge its own weight. You lift the bag, and the weight displays on the mobile app. When it’s empty, the bag weighs 8.5 pounds—no more than the weight of similarly sized roller bags from Samsonite or Travelpro.
Chen says that if anything goes wrong with the electronics, Bluesmart will replace your entire bag. Beyond the realm of practicality, there are another couple of fun features planned for the bag as well.
“For the geeky traveler, we have a lot of stats we’ll provide on the app,” says Chen. “Like how long you’ve been on the road, how many miles your bag has traveled, and a social dashboard so you can see the stats from your friends.”
The current version of the bag is still a prototype, but the 11-person Bluesmart team is moving from its current offices in San Francisco to a new home base in Hong Kong. That’s so the team can be close to its supply chain in China while design refinements and mass-production efforts are ongoing.
One of the first goals is to improve the build quality of the bag. Chen says they’re working with some of the same companies that produce materials and bags for Tumi and Samsonite, and they’re looking for a bag that matches up to that durability and quality.
“We don’t want this to be a gadget,” Chen says. “We want it to be a necessity. The whole point of it is, eventually, people won’t call it a smart bag. People will just assume you have a bag with these features.”
In August, the first wave of bags is slated to ship to its Indiegogo backers, who pitched in about $2 million in presales. Another $500,000 in presales came in through the Bluesmart site after that campaign, with approximately 9,000 units sold in total.
As you’d expect, this bag is pretty pricey, but it’s not entirely out of line with brand-name (and non-smart) luggage. It’s available for $320 via preorder through the Bluesmart site right now, and the company hopes to sell the bag through major online retailers in time for the holiday season. Chen also says that if all goes well with the first-generation bag, different sized models may follow in the coming years.