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Oh, how far luggage has come. From the steamer trunks of centuries past, to the squeak of the first wheelie bags, to high-end technical backpacks, the style, materials, and ease of carrying has changed dramatically over the years.
Like everyone else in the travel industry, luggage manufacturers have been keen to embrace new technology. Smart bags now offer charging, tracking, security, and other features unimaginable even a decade ago.
Airlines and the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) have approached this new trend with caution, however, especially after lithium batteries were shown to be a fire risk in other devices. Since late last year, all lithium-ion batteries need to be removed from checked bags (pdf) before they’re allowed on board, including those in smart luggage. Carry-on bags with batteries inside are still allowed, at least for now.
The batteries in some smart luggage weren’t designed to be removed, and the rule change caught companies on the hop. A couple — including smart luggage pioneer Bluesmart — ended up shutting down before they could design and release a new, compliant product.
That wasn’t the end of smart luggage, however — in fact, far from it. These five options are all FAA-compliant, and available for sale or pre-order now. With powerful charging stations, extreme toughness, ingenious space-saving tricks, and more, these companies show just how smart luggage is becoming.
NoviConnected has a 10,050 mAh battery, and is capable of charging USB-C and USB -A devices simultaneously. The ProConnected case doubles the capacity to 20,100 mAh (74 Wh), enough to power a MacBook via USB-C, and includes two additional USB-A ports for charging other devices.
Both suitcases can be made trackable with a GPS add-on, sold separately.
The ProConnected retails for just under $400. If you feel the NoviConnected would work for you (and frankly, it probably would for many people), it’s available in several colors from Incase or on Amazon for around a hundred bucks less.
TraxPack promises to reduce our stair-based concerns. The suitcase, currently for pre-order in carry-on size, focuses on flexibility and ease of transporting.
The handle tilts and is extra long, letting you easily drag the case up and down stairs, helped by the tracks on the back. The polycarbonate outer shell is built like a tank, so neither the bag nor your belongings will suffer from being pulled up the inevitable half-dozen floors in your next Paris hotel.
Still in prototype mode, the company is working on different versions of these suitcases, including some with GPS trackers and built-in scales. The current models, which are available for pre-order and start at $235, don’t offer any of these features, but future ones may well.
Past the glitz of it, though, the Away case is actually worth checking out. Its sleek exterior (unbreakable and available in a number of colors, just how the Instagram influencers like it) hides some good features.
The battery can charge any smartphone up to five times, while still being instantly ejectable to keep the airlines happy. Personal items can be sorted in two fully separated compartments, making dirty laundry less of a problem — or at least, less of a mess.
Away is available in four sizes, including two carry-ons. Prices start at $225.
Néit is a different kind of smart luggage. It doesn’t come with electronic gimmicks or a futuristic-looking exterior, but instead offers something just as important to travelers: space.
Néit is, in its own words, “the world’s first collapsible hard case” suitcase. Despite holding a spacious 98 liters of luggage while on the move, the solid shell bag folds down to just three inches high when not in use. All four wheels also fold away, so they don’t stick out and get caught on things. The combination makes the Néit extremely convenient to store, both at home and in cramped hotel rooms.
Besides this ingenious feature, Néit’s bags can also be made tech-smart with a GPS tracker, sold separately. Néit is currently only available as a check-in model, which retails for around $300. A carry-on 40-liter version with the same features is also available for pre-order, at a little over half the price.
Not a suitcase itself, Airbolt has the power to make any bag smart. This Bluetooth-enabled security device is controlled by your smartphone, and adds extra features to the luggage you already own.
The Airbolt is first and foremost a lock, but one that can only be unlocked by the owner’s smartphone. There’s also a proximity alert, which comes in handy when you’re waiting for your bag in the arrivals hall or if someone walks off with your suitcase.
The tracker also reports its location, but since it relies on crowdsourcing via the companion app to do it, the accuracy isn’t as high as a true GPS network. Still, it’s a lot better than relying on your airline to find your lost luggage!
Airbolt is available now on Amazon and the Airbolt site.