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Bags with brains: Smart luggage and gadgets that could transform travel

Traveling can be a joy or a pain, and the luggage you use to tote your stuff determines that outcome. While manufacturers have made advancements in materials and design, suitcases really haven’t changed much. But luggage is finally getting smarter, and the options for connected suitcases and related gadgets – from startups to market leaders like Samsonite, Rimowa, and Delsey – are beginning to catch hold. From built-in scales, GPS tracking, and mobile apps, these bags won’t make hauling your stuff any lighter, but they could make the experience less harrowing. If, that is, some actually make it to retail, but we remain hopeful. Below are some of our current and forthcoming favorites.

Bluesmart Smart Carry-On Luggage ($399)

We took a look at Bluesmart when it was still an Indiegogo campaign. Bluesmart is the first of the super-smart suitcases to actually make it from crowdfunding to delivery. The suitcase’s features set the standard for the next generation of travel gear. The companion iOS or Android app allows you to control the TSA-approved lock and its proximity option, which can automatically lock and unlock when you and your phone move in and out of range. The app also displays the bag’s weight thanks to a built-in scale, and it will even tell you if it’s overweight for the airline you’re flying – a helpful feature for before you head to the airport.

Inside, the Bluesmart case hides a 10,000mAh battery with two USB charging ports – one behind the top handle and one in a pocket. That’s enough to charge most new phones more than five times. In addition, the pockets hide a series of dividers designed for conveniently stowing a laptop or tablet. It’s also the perfect size for a weekend trip given it measures 22-inches tall and 14-inches wide. And with the GPS, you’ll know where to find your bag even if the airline manages to lose it. For now, you’ll have to pre-order one, and wait for all the Indiegogo backers to receive their deliveries first. Read more here.

Available December 2015

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Fugu Luggage ($245)

Fugu luggage focuses on form-factor instead of connectivity features, and the unique way it tackles this caught our eye. It uses the same tech you’d find in an inflatable paddle board to transition from small to large, allowing you to double the amount of storage space at your fingertips. The built-in pump used to inflate the luggage also works to suck the air out of vacuum storage bags (optional accessory). Other components – e.g., pull-out shelves, removable laptop case, GPS module – round out the suite of add-on features.

Does it sound too good to be true? It might be. Fugu’s Kickstarter campaign initially stated the suitcase would hit shelves in August, but they’re just now wrapping up R&D. The company’s most recent update in mid-October announced removable wheels, but still no clear delivery timeline. Some backers are understandably pissed, since according to the extensive terms and conditions, the suitcase is now set to ship in early 2016. Regardless, you can grab a Fugu for $300 with the battery or $250 without if you don’t mind the wait – caveat emptor. Read more here.

Available March 2016

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Planet Traveler Space Case 1 ($329 – $869)

Planet Traveler’s Space Case Kickstarter campaign raised nearly a million dollars, claiming to be the world’s smartest luggage in the process. We were impressed, too. The Space Case 1’s hard polycarbonate carry-on, along with the check-in accordion spinner uprights, link to an app where you can see the bag’s location and weight via a built-in digital scale. The scale is a nice touch, as is the biometric lock designed to complement the TSA lock for screenings. A 12,000mAh battery with two external USB charging ports and one internal, complete the suite of features.

The Space Case 1 comes in more colors than some of the other bags here, too, given it’s available in silver, gray, pink, and two crazy art prints instead of just black. The lowest pre-order price for the bag is $330, with the check-in coming in at $380. All are now set to ship in February 2016 instead of the November 2015, the previous launch window, which makes us wonder how Space Case will hold up the rest of its claims if this one was flouted. We’ll find out next year.

Available February 2016

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Planet Traveler

Trunkster intelligent zipperless luggage ($350)

Possibly the most controversial product in our roundup is the Trunkster, a smart suitcase that had a successful run on Kickstarter yet started a second pre-order run on Indiegogo for some unknown reason. The suitcase’s standout feature is the roll-top opening, which is a rugged and less frustrating alternative to zippers.

While the suitcase’s handle features a built-in scale, the GPS component is a $60 add-on. Both the carry-on and check-in versions of the Trunkster come with a 10,400mAh removable power bank, which you can use even when you don’t need the entire bag. The downside is that Trunkster’s way behind on delivery. The current delivery date for the Kickstarter campaign has been pushed back to January 2016, while Indiegogo backers will have to wait until April.

Available January 2016

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Coolpeds Briefcase Solar Electric Scooter ($700)

Coolpeds combines two things that are good together: a scooter and a briefcase. It’s handy to have an e-scooter, especially when you’re headed from one end of the airport to the other, or exploring a new area. The integrated lithium-ion battery is good for roughly 6.2 miles before it needs a charge, and the scooter’s max speed is about 12 miles per hour. It also folds up when not in use, and with the bag, remains within carry-on size limits for some airlines when folded.

The bag itself features a standard zippered opening, and you can add optional solar panels on the briefcase cover. It’s $700 with the solar panels, or $600 without them.

Available late 2015

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Delsey Pluggage smart luggage prototype

Delsey’s Pluggage made an appearance at CES 2015 with a slew of features, including a scale, battery pack, and optional fingerprint ID lock. The suitcase’s accompanying app can even display your flight updates and weather forecast if you enter the right flight info. Pluggage does have a few things that others don’t, too, such as internal lighting when opened and an onboard detection feature that lets you know when your case is loaded onto the plane. That way, you’ll know immediately if the airline lost your luggage instead of when you land.

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Trakdot Luggage Tracker ($70)

Trakdot is not an actual bag, but a tracker that helps you find your bag anywhere with a GSM signal. It runs on a pair of AA batteries and automatically turns off when out of range, to adhere to flight regulations. It’s perfect if you have a suitcase that you already love — or, in theory, anything else you want to track that’s large enough to hold the tracker. You also don’t need a dedicated app to use it, but there is one available. Trakdot works with all SMS-capable devices, so you can get notifications via text or email as long as you’re within GSM coverage.

If you do decide to use the accompanying app, it can help alleviate worries about when you’ll actually see your bag again. Aside from providing you with your bag’s general location (like, city and airport), the app will tell you when your bag is about to hit the carousel. And, if you have a black suitcase that tends to blend in, Trakdot will even show you where on the carousel your luggage is sitting. The Trakdot retails for $70 on Amazon, but keep in mind that there’s $9 activation fee and $13 annual subscription fee. Nonetheless, it’s still considerably less expensive than a new bag (and replacing lost items). Read more here.

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LugLoc Luggage Locator ($70)

Another GSM add-on for traditional luggage, LugLoc uses GSM for distance tracking, which allows your bag to pop up on the map when you ping it with the LugLoc app. Bluetooth within the module can also help you find your luggage on the carousel, while the embedded patented triaxial accelerometer ensures the device will turn off when in motion.

The pay structure is a little different than Trakdot, however. Each time you search for your bag it essentially counts as a trace. LugLoc comes with 15 free days of unlimited traces, rendering it perfect for a vacation, but you’ll have to buy more through the app after that. You can purchase five traces for $7, 10 for $10, or unlimited traces for $30 – all of which are good for a year after purchase.

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