Several years ago, the introduction of ‘smart luggage’ into the market was seen as a solution to the major struggles of travel. Fashionable, lightweight check-in and carry on bags that could charge phones, be tracked via GPS if lost, and even be used as personal motorized scooters. They seemed just too good to be true.
And, well, they were.
The Achilles Heel of Smart Luggage
The smart luggage industry first launched in 2014 promising to deliver a slick new form of check-in and carry on luggage, designed to make the travel experience as stress-free as possible. Some of the most notable highlights of smart luggage included:
- Built-in power banks to charge electronics on-the-go
- GPS tracking systems for the airport conveyer belt or in case of loss
- Wifi and bluetooth capabilities
- Electronic baggage tags
- Weight sensors
- Electronic locks
- Built-in motors to act as personal traveling devices
Within a year of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) releasing its guidance on ‘smart baggage,’ two leading companies in the smart luggage industry have already sold their assets and folded after watching their stock values collapse and receiving overwhelming backlash from their customer bases.
The downfall of smart bags came as a surprise many travelers. The market was clearly excited and ready for tech-savvy luggage design, as New York-based BlueSmart managed to crowdfund 2 million dollars to be the ‘first’ smart luggage company on the market, while Raden managed to sell 2 million dollars worth of its smart bags within four months of operation. Now, both companies are closed for business.
So, what is causing the industry to shut down so soon? No, not the inability to set the bags to ‘airplane mode’ (though their electromagnetic interference is cited as a problem by the IATA). Ultimately, it’s the lithium batteries that are delivering the death blow to the smart luggage industry.
Avoiding Another Samsung Galaxy Note7 Debacle
While lithium batteries are cited by the IATA guidelines as being a fire risk when built into checked-in luggage, the US was the first country to see strict regulations put in place on check-in smart luggage. The US Transportation Security Administration already bans packing spare lithium ion and metal batteries into check-in luggage, though uninstalled batteries are still allowed to be packed in carry on bags. So, the TSA deferred to the airlines to make the decision on whether to regulate smart luggage.
By December 2017, it was abundantly clear that restrictions were coming, for safety reasons. American Airlines, followed closely by Alaska, Delta, Southwest, and United airlines, instituted strict regulations that essentially ban smart luggage unless the lithium batteries are removed prior to check-in.
The airlines’ logic centered on their experience with Samsung’s Galaxy Note7 and the fact that if the lithium batteries overheated in the cargo hold, the resulting fires could not be controlled by the flight attendants and passengers.
Note: This is why you are allowed to use lithium battery-powered electronics, like laptops and cellphones during a flight, and why TSA expects all electronics containing any lithium batteries in checked luggage to be turned off.
When Alaska Airlines released its regulations for smart luggage, the statement noted that, “There have been no incidents to date with smart bags on airplanes and we want to keep it that way”.
The Aftermath of the Smart Luggage Regulations
A huge problem rests in the fact that smart luggage relies on the lithium battery to keep the luggage locked and tracked when it is out of the hands of its owner. So, when the top five US-based airlines finally implemented their regulations this year, they essentially gutted the main function of smart luggage bags in calling for the lithium batteries to be removed from the bags when checked.
Today, airports across the country and TSA have been notified about the regulations on smart luggage, while other countries mull similar restrictions.
Of course, horror stories abound:
Many owners of these bags have found out hard way that their smart luggage battery was not easily removed and found themselves scrambling for a screwdriver at the airport. Given that airline regulations also ban smart luggage carry on bags unless the battery can be removed, many smart luggage owners have ended up missing their flights as they had to turn their smart luggage into regular luggage at the last minute.
Why Simple Luggage is a Traveler’s Best Friend
As Raden gave its final bow and apologized for its sudden shutdown, it encouraged its customers to “keep supporting young brands and innovative products”.
Well, we couldn’t agree more. However, we would contend that “innovative” doesn’t necessarily mean carrying an R2D2 as your luggage.
Tortuga has always taken pride in following a “simple is better” ethos, which is born out of the experiences we’ve had as a team of well-seasoned travelers. From daypacks to backpacks, we know that high quality, functional, and minimalist carry on bags will forever be a traveler’s best friend. Need proof? Our Setout backpack just received Carryology’s “Best Carry On Bag” award.
At the end of the day, we know that the stress of travel can be avoided with fashionable and functional simplicity. As Carryology mentioned in its appraisal of our SetOut, “No bells and whistles. Just a design built from years of traveling and learning and experimenting.”
The smart luggage industry is already declining due to new airline regulations on the lithium batteries found in the bags. The lithium batteries pose a safety risk when left installed in check-in luggage and not all smart bags have removable lithium batteries.
Smart bags are causing serious issues and major frustration as owners realize that airlines will not allow them to board without first detaching lithium batteries.
When it comes to luggage, simple, functional, and high quality carry on travel backpacks are one of the best ways to eliminate the stress of travel.
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