Travel

5 robots battling to carry your bags

By Andrea Hofman 13 July 2017
Summary

Hello, future travel companion.

Fed up of lugging cumbersome luggage around? You’re not alone.

That’s why smart companies are working hard to find new ways to lighten your load – with door-to-door delivery services like SendMyBag, and luggage storage network CityStasher both rising stars on the travel tech scene. 

Read more: 3 Oxford grads say: Drop your bags & be free!

Other upstarts, however, are making it their business to upgrade your bag itself – embracing everything from clever AI features, to laptop charging.

But are robot suitcases the future?

We checked out 5 leading bot bags to find out…

1) Travelmate (£385 – £535)

The sell: This loyal companion follows you wherever you go.

For: People who always wanted a puppy, but travel too much.

The good

It’s cute and practical: the Travelmate rolls at your heel (matching your walking pace up to 6.75 mph). It’s also adorned with colourful lights that beam with excitement to see you (Beethoven, eat your heart out).

Additional perks include multiple USB ports and a handle that folds into a work desk (ideal for business trips), a camera mount (for all your selfie needs), and a self-weighing feature (no more panic at the airport check-in).

Worried that this suitcase will be tossed at a security checkpoint? Not a problem – the bag is fully compliant with security regulations.

The bad

Our fear is that people will get jealous, and get a little too hands-on with this hands-free item. But should your Travelmate be stolen, it comes with a trackable GPS chip (which can also be removed and attached to other items – computer, passport, laptop, etc). 

As with all rolling suitcases, stairs are out of the question.

You’ll also need to remember to charge it. The Travelmate has a battery life of just four hours, which could be problematic for those doing lots of layovers.

Manual mode isn’t so bad though: with three different sizes, Travelmate cases weigh in at 3kg, 4kg and 5kg – pretty similar to standard hard shell suitcases.

Still, there’s no point paying for a fancy suitcase if the battery’s forever flat.

Can I buy one?

Yes, through Travelmate’s 1637%-funded Indiegogo campaign site. First orders are due to be shipped in September 2017.

Cowa Robot R1. Pic: Cowa Robot

2) Cowa Robot R1 (£540)

The sell: A smart autonomous bot for people who mean business

For: The no-frills digital nomad

The good

When it comes to autonomous bags, China’s offering is the slick minimal Cowa Robot R1.  

Like the Travelmate, this also offers USB charging, tracking and won’t slow you down through airport security.

However, in addition to app controls, the Cowa Robot R1 also comes with a wearable bracelet controller to help you easily switch from “autonomous”  to “manual” on the go. No need to faff about for your smartphone. 

It also has a slightly longer battery life (4 hrs and 20 min).

The bad

The Cowa Robot R1 has a slower top speed, capped at 4.5 mph. So if you’re a Speedy Gonzales, this probably isn’t for you.

With just one size, you also risk being landed with a 4.8kg case if it runs out of juice.

Can I buy one?

Not yet. But Cowa’s online shop says it’s ‘coming soon’.

NUA Suitcase. Pic: NUA Robotics

3) NUA Robotics Suitcase (£TBC)

The sell: It could be the first self-charging smart suitcase.

For: Forgetful travellers who hate faff – and would prefer to wait for the perfect device

The good

With the NUA case, you can charge your devices, track the case’s location, and have it weigh itself. It also includes a pint-sized anti-theft alarm to freak out any would-be robbers. 

But what’s most exciting are plans for a self-charging option, that will power the case it up as it rolls along.

This could banish flat battery moments – with virtually no faff involved.  

The bad

The NUA Robotics Suitcase remains a bit of a wild card, with few specs publicly available.

For the meantime we know that team has capped its top speed at 5km per hour for safety, while battery life is limited to 1 hr 30 min per charge.

After unveiling a prototype in 2016, the company said it would release the case in the upcoming year or so.

So whether it will live up to its self-powering ambitions remains uncertain. 

Can I buy it?

No, not yet. But you can sign up for regular updates here.

Gita by Piaggio. Pic: DesignBoom

4) Gita by Piaggio (£TBC)

The sell: This has a striking circular design that can tackle tough terrain with ease.

For: Eccentric tech fanboys and girls.

The good

The least case-like item on this list, the Gita is for those who really don’t mind attracting stares, and are happy to pay out for the pleasure.

Created in partnership with Piaggio (the company that brought you the Vespa), it’s a wonderfully robust autonomous assistant: it can go up to 22 mph, and hardy wheels that can tackle rough roads and bad weather.

Like the takeaway delivery bots that have started to hit the streets, it can also roll off on its own to any pre-assigned destination.

While it might look deceivingly minimalistic, a biometric key and passcode are required to open the locking bay, and the Gita is equipped with cameras and sensors that render it virtually steal-proof.

It’s batteries last about 8 hours at walking speed.

The bad

The downside of this experimental concept design, is that it has less storage space than the cases on this list – although it can still carry an impressive 18kg.

It’s also still in development, and won’t hit stores for a few years yet.

Piaggio also wouldn’t confirm or deny whether you’d be able to get it through airport security (we’re not hopeful).

Can I buy one?

Sorry, no. You’ll have to be patient.

Blue Smart Series 2 : BlueSmart

5) Bluesmart Series 2 (£459)

The sell: It’s fit for all your super-charging needs

For: The long-haul multi-tasker (who doesn’t mind carrying their own bag)

The good

It’s simple, sleek, and smart, and comes in a choice of sizes. But instead of focusing on autonomy, the Bluesmart Series 2 takes your charging needs to the next level. 

Each case has two USB charging ports, but just 2.5 hours of charge allow it to serve as a power source for 30 days.

You can also pair it with a bluetooth-tracked laptop bag or passport case, and you guessed it: the laptop bag also acts as a portable charger – with a further two USB ports.

Other perks are that the Bluesmart 2 can weigh itself, it has a remote lock and it has a GPS locator. 

The bad

You will have to stick with the muggles and wheel this case yourself.

Can I buy it?

Yes, at a reduced price for early birds, on the Bluesmart Indiegogo campaign website.

Our takeaway

Are robot cases the future? Probably. And, as we’ve said, no one enjoys carrying their own bags.

But with high price tags and needy charging requirements, much will need to improve before they hit the mainstream.

Give it five years, and perhaps a self-charging bag robot will be rolling away on holiday with you.

Read more: Welcome to Future Travel month