Pack to the Future

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From tracking devices to solar panels, robotics to biometrics, Jenny Southan packs her bags and goes in search of the luggage design trends of tomorrow.

The nostalgic appeal of a Goyard steamer trunk with its chevron-patterned canvas exterior, buckles, studs and leather trim may never die, but in reality the needs of modern travellers have moved on. Nowadays, we are not only looking for light-weight, wheeled cases with zips and laptop compartments, but cabin-friendly dimensions, business-like aesthetics and built-in TSA locks. As luggage design evolves, manufacturers are beginning to come up with more high-tech innovations.

Some are more useful than others, of course. No businessperson is going to buy a suitcase that turns into a scooter or a sound-system, but we may be interested in a bag with a built-in solar panel or tracking device. The latter is of particular interest to both the industry and the consumer, with 26 million cases being mishandled by airlines every year.

In light of this, there are numerous projects underway to come up with a solution. One example is Tile (www.thetileapp.com), a tiny plastic homing device that can be attached to your luggage and wirelessly connects to a smartphone app via Bluetooth. Another, Bag2Go, is an “intelligent suitcase” being created in collaboration with Airbus, Rimowa, information communication technology company T-Systems and trade body IATA.

Bag2Go is fitted with a computer chip that syncs with a smartphone app to tell you where it is at any point on the journey (except during the flight) using GPS. It also has a built-in digital scale, a system that will notify you if your case has been opened or tampered with, and an e-ink display (like on a Kindle) with two barcodes – one containing your personal information and flight details, the other a unique identifier to replace the need for a separate bag tag at check-in.

British Airways joined forces with design consultancy Designworks earlier this year to come up with an electronic bag tag (also with an e-ink screen). Although the product won’t be able to track your suitcase, customer trials among Microsoft employees using Nokia Lumia Windows phones began in October, in Heathrow T5. The phones all have a specially adapted version of the BA app on them, which automatically updates the tag in a single swipe with a unique barcode containing new flight details and the case’s destination.

Premium luggage manufacturer Tumi has also been busy. “We are looking at tracking devices and will be introducing something in the spring,” says Alan Krantzler, senior vice-president of brand management. “We are also looking at technologies that help our customers stay powered.”

Here, we round up ten luggage innovations that could make your travelling life easier…

1. LAT 56º BACKPACK
$240
www.lat56.com

Innovation – Military-grade materials
Specially designed for business travellers, the “Urban Warrior” range from Scottish brand Lat 56º sees the use of “bombproof NASA-spec memory foam” on the inside and a “shock absorbing dual layer of military-spec moulded EVA [ethylene vinyl acetate] foam” on the outside to eye-catching effect. So much so, that the black exteriors of the briefcases, laptop bags and backpacks (such as the one pictured) look like rubbery armadillo shells, which aren’t exactly chic. Still, appearing to be fashionable doesn’t seem to be the objective here, as Lat 56º describes the products as looking and performing like a piece of armour. The backpack weighs 1.3kg, has a 35-litre volume and can handle “anything from acid rain to a tropical typhoon”, so is essentially waterproof.
Verdict – The materials used have actually been around for decades – NASA invented memory foam in the 1960s and EVA foam is commonly used in everything from ski boots to bike saddles. What’s unique are the ergonomics and aesthetics of this unusual-looking, high-performance range of luggage.

2. I-STAY LAPTOP BAG
$65
www.i-stayput.com
Innovation –
Non-slip strap
I-Stay entered the market in 2012 with a series of non-slip straps and business luggage. The webbed rubber shoulder pad may only be a small design tweak, but it does make a difference – not only is it annoying to constantly lift your bag strap back on to your shoulder when rushing to catch a plane or train, but it’s bad for your body. This clever innovation prevents that from happening by ensuring that the weight of the load is spread evenly across the shoulder and the webbing grips to clothing. It has even earned I-Stay a commendation from the College of Chiropractors. Not only can the strap be bought as part of an I-Stay-designed piece of luggage (such as the laptop bag, pictured), but purchased separately to replace your own bag’s disobedient strap.
Verdict – If you have neck or back problems, you are probably better off not carrying weight on one side of your body – distributing it across both shoulders with a back pack would be better. However, the non-slip strap definitely works.

3. CROSSKASE SOLAR 15 BACKPACK
$225
www.crosskase.com   
Innovation –
Solar panel
It can be inconvenient, if not disastrous, to find your electronic devices have run out of power at a crucial moment, but this rucksack can help ease your worries, thanks to its built-in three-watt solar panel and internal battery. Made from ballistic nylon, making it durable, the bag has numerous pouches and compartments for phones, tablets, cameras and laptops up to 15.6 inches in size. It’s a little on the heavy side at 1.7kg, but this isn’t so perceptible when worn over two shoulders. Inside is a charging cable and a pack of eight connectors that can be fitted to your handheld gadgets. To charge the battery to 50%, you will need to leave the backpack in bright sunlight for six to eight hours (or plug it into the mains), but this will only be enough to juice up a smartphone. The Crosskase is also unable to recharge larger devices such as laptops, notebooks or iPads, which is disappointing.
Verdict – A handy innovation, especially when travelling in hot countries or working outdoors with sporadic access to electricity. Even if you are based in a city, it is useful to be able to charge your smartphone while on your way to a meeting.

4. TUMI TEGRA-LITE INTERNATIONAL CARRY-ON
$950
www.uk.tumi.com
Innovation –
Bullet-proof plastic
Since 2012, Tumi has had an exclusive partnership with US army textile and chemical manufacturer Milliken to engineer a range of Tegra-Lite hard-shell suitcases made from a “revolutionary polypropylene thermoplastic composite” called Tegris. The material is used in protective gear for NFL players, body armour and NASCAR racing cars, which means this case is light (2.9kg) and tough. According to Milliken: “Tegris provides a two to 15-times improvement in impact resistance, compared with typical thermoplastics and composites. Its performance is so good that it is being used as armour against ballistic threats.” If you happen to be in a war zone, you can use your suitcase as a shield – failing that, it will have no problem enduring every-day knocks and bumps. The Tegra-Lite four-wheeled international carry-on also has an aircraft-grade aluminium X-Brace 45 telescopic handle, TSA integrated locks and break-off zips that come away from the body of the zipper and can be replaced free of charge.
Verdict – These suitcases are expensive – ranging from $950 to $1,600 – but they will last for years, looking seriously sophisticated and scoring highly on design and performance.

5. ANTLER JUNO CABIN SUITCASE
$190
www.antler.co.uk
Innovation –
Ribbed, injection-moulded shell – in white
Distinctly futuristic to look at, Antler’s Juno suitcase is made from ribbed, injection-moulded shells made from polypropylene (the same material as used for car bumpers). This makes it highly durable, flexing gently when pressure is applied, and comes with a guarantee of 10 years. Also available in black, the white option looks the most striking, but runs the risk of attracting lots of scuffs and marks. With a packing capacity of 45 litres, and measuring 56cm x 35cm x 23cm, the Juno, which was launched in August, is also very light at 2.4kg (the largest version weighs just 4.2kg).
Verdict – Injection-moulded polypropylene suitcases have been around since the late 1960s, but the bone-like ribbed design of the Juno makes this Anther unique.

6. KNOMO SCALA NORTH-SOUTH WHEELED TROLLEY
$385
www.knomobags.com
Innovation –
ID registration code
As with all Knomo products, the Scala North-South cabin case from the new Fritzrovia range for women comes with a unique “Myknomo” ID number. This can be registered online, so that if it goes missing and someone finds it, they can contact the British luggage manufacturer direct (online or via the international telephone number on the label), and it will reunite you with your luggage free of charge. Tumi has a similar product recovery programme called Tumi Tracer, with cases inscribed with a unique 20-digit number. Knomo’s carry-on cases come in cherry, black and marine, and also feature a front compartment for a 15-inch laptop, and external pocket for a mobile phone or keys, double-stitched diamond quilting, EVA foam padding, a zip-away telescopic handle and a magnetic clasp that wraps around the leather handles to keep them together.
Verdict – A useful layer of online support combined with attractive, well-thought-through design across the Knomo range. The Myknomo system is reliant on the honesty of the finder. A tracking device might be better.

7. TUMI TICON PASSORT COVER
$120
www.uk.tumi.com
Innovation –
RFID protection
Luxury luggage brand Tumi launched its Ticon collection earlier this year, with bags and wallets woven with a layer of metallic thread to protect ID documents and credit cards that are RFID (radio frequency identification) readable. This passport is only useful to those of us with a biometric passport or contactless payment debit and credit cards. These contain electronic chips that store all your personal information and can be hacked with a handheld scanning device. But, by keeping them in a Ticon wallet with “Tumi ID Lock” technology, a wireless RFID reader will not be able to access it. I downloaded two NFC (near-field communication) apps to test this out – the official UK Passport Reader from the Identity and Passport Service and the NFC Passport Reader, both for Android devices only. In both cases, I was able to unlock information stored on my biometric passport chip, such as my photo, date of birth, document number, full name and nationality (the second app revealed more details including fingerprint codes). Neither app worked when I put the passport inside the Ticon wallet.
Verdict – Good for peace-of-mind, but in reality it seems pretty hard to steal your data with an RFID scanner, unless criminals have more powerful readers that can detect your biometric passports and credit cards through your bag (which they might).

8. REBOUND TAG
$56
www.reboundtag.com
Innovation –
RFID microchip
Lost luggage is a problem that most frequent flyers have experienced at one time or another, but by attaching a Rebound Tag to your suitcase, if the worst does happen there is a better chance you will be reunited with your belongings. The tag is fitted with two RFID microchips – one is rewritable and designed to be encoded with flight information each time you fly, and the other is for permanent personal information linked to your account. The tag is also printed with a barcode and a unique ID number, so if a member of the public finds it, they can visit www.reboundtag.com, enter the digits and send you a message. If an airline or airport retrieves your bags, you will automatically be alerted by email or SMS. Tags need to be registered online and the $56 fee includes one year’s membership for unlimited flights (renewal is $16 a year). Unveiled in 2010, the Rebound Tag can be customised with your company logo, and could even replace paper labels in the future.
Verdict – A handy piece of kit with the added advantage of being able to use the online “Members Area” to update personal information on the RFID chip, including where you are staying and whether any medication is inside your bag. On the downside, there is a certain amount of hassle and expense involved that will put some people off.

9.TRAKDOT
$50
store.trakdot.com
Innovation –
Cellular-based tracking
This newly-launched palm-sized device (128g) is designed to be placed inside your suitcase before check-in. The Trakdot then employs “newly-patented micro-electronics and ground-based cellular telephone technologies” (as opposed to GPS) to inform you of its whereabouts. To comply with FAA (US Federal Aviation Administration) regulations, the gadget automatically enters “flight mode”, when it senses the plane taking off. Upon touching down, it will switch back on and report its new location via SMS or email. (Despite requests, Trakdot was unable to send one to Business Traveller to test, so we can’t comment on its accuracy.) You can track it via free iPhone and Android smartphone apps, as well as on your computer. There is a one-off activation fee of $9 and an annual service fee of $13.
Verdict – Knowing your case has arrived is reassuring, and being able to prove that it is elsewhere in the world could be very useful. A unique and compelling proposition for business travellers, Trakdot complements existing measures in place to prevent you from losing your case.

10. SCOTTEVEST REVOLUTION PLUS JACKET
scottevest.com
$200
Innovation –
Lots of pockets
Everyone who has to endure short-haul flights on budget carriers knows the perils of the one-bag policy, so the idea of a multi-pocket jacket for your belongings is both amusing and credible. US company Scottevest offers jackets, coats, trousers and even underwear, all with numerous hidden compartments. Business Traveller tried the Sport Jacket for men and the women’s Travel Vest, but no one could bring themselves to wear them, so zero points for fashion appeal. But the Revolution Plus (pictured), designed for cold weather, looks bulky anyway and has 26 pockets, including ones specially designed to accommodate iPads, Bluetooth headsets, water bottles, money and smartphones, as well as loops for headphone wires and slots to hide the in-ear buds. The sleeves and hood are also detachable.
Verdict – Not the most stylish of garments, but a good idea if you can only travel with one small case. Remembering where you put your passport could be a problem, though.