No, it’s not a Galaxy smartphone with an impact resistant shell or a new tablet so large it needs a luggage-style collapsing handle and wheels.
The two are working on smart luggage, the next generation of travel gear that’s packed with sensors and designed to take advantage of the “internet of things,” even when you travel.
What Exactly Is Smart Luggage?
Like any so-called “smart” technology, the definition of smart luggage is going to vary by the company that’s working on it.
In the case of Samsung and Samsonite, Engadget says it’s a luggage collection with embedded sensors, including GPS. The result will be smart luggage that is locationally aware, can send out notifications to an owner’s mobile device and even alert them if it detects tampering.
From a practical point of view, this means a suitcase that warns you if you accidentally walk away and leave it behind, texts you when it’s ready to be picked up at the baggage carousel, warns you if someone is trying to break into it and lets you pinpoint its exact location should it be misplaced.
The partners are also working with airlines to extended the smart luggage functionality to include connectivity with their systems. For example, why have to set luggage aside to manually label it with weight and destination prior to being loaded on a plane (the current process)? Smart luggage could be programmed with that information, making for faster and more accurate baggage handling.
Is There Actually a Market for This Stuff?
If the idea of smart luggage sounds far fetched, there is actually a thriving market for Bluetooth and GPS-equipped tags that you can stick on things to get tracking, location and notification capability. Tile is one such device that has been making noise over the past year while Stick N Find offers proximity alerts for your luggage and uses crowd-sourcing (lots of Stick in Find app users) to e-mail the owner the location of a missing suitcase.
Bluesmart raised over $2 million in an IndieGoGo campaign to produce smart luggage that offers a built-in scale, remote locking, proximity notifications and location tracking. So far, that company has sold more than 7,000 of the $329-plus smart suitcases — not bad for an independent start-up selling some pretty expensive luggage in a highly competitive market.
Why Samsung and Samsonite Make Sense
If there is a viable market in smart luggage, Samsung and Samsonite make sense as partners ideally suited to tackle it.
Samsonite is the world’s largest manufacturer of suitcases, with brand recognition and thousands of retailers carrying its travel gear. The company has shown an interest in diversifying into more high-tech ventures (it purchased leading smartphone and tablet case manufacturer Speck in 2014) and it has been a leader in innovative features like hard-shelled, impact-resistant bags.
Samsung is a consumer electronics giant that also happens to make everything from many of the chips powering Apple Inc’s (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPhones to home appliances. It has been pushing its own connected home strategy and its own mobile payment system. When it comes to the smartphones any smart luggage would connect to, more than 80% of those devices run Android — and among Android smartphones, Samsung is far and away the top seller.
In other words, Samsonite has the brand recognition, desire to innovate and the retail presence to sell smart luggage. Samsung has the technology and can provide access to the mobile platform the majority of buyers would be using.
Together, they also represent a partnership that airlines would take seriously, making integration into their logistics systems more likely.
Smart Luggage Might Be Just the Start
“Smart” may not stop at features like alerts and location tracking. A Samsonite official told The Daily Mail that the company is also working on self-propelled, motorized luggage that follows its owner. For now, that means bulky and heavy prototype suitcases, but with miniaturization this could be the next phase in smart luggage.
Naturally, there are obstacles to overcome. Consumers may balk at the cost of smart luggage; despite Samsung’s Android commitment, something would need to be done to accommodate iPhone owners; it would also help if airlines were onboard. There are also security issues around a smartphone-toting passenger being in wireless communication with a GPS-equipped suitcase stowed in an airplane.
However, Bluesmart has proven there’s a demand for sensor-packing travel gear, and with Samsung and Samsonite working together, it looks as though smart luggage could indeed be the next big thing — at least for frequent travelers.
As of this writing, Brad Moon did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.