Robo-cases to roll travellers into the future

Self-driving cars may take a while to arrive, but the self-driving suitcase is here now.

Some of the technologies used in autonomous cars have been adapted for products unveiled at the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, to help travellers with their hefty baggage.

The “robot suitcase” from California-based startup Travelmate can be controlled with a smartphone app and can roll alongside its owner at speeds up to 11km/h, navigating around obstacles.

“This is really a robot which follows you around,” said Travelmate president Maximillian Kovtun.

Travelmate designed the device to roll at a pace that matches that of the user, or it can be directed with the smartphone app in the same manner as a drone.

Priced at about $1 100, it is slated to roll out in February for the United States market, and later in Europe and Japan.

A competing offering from ForwardX, a Chinese startup with offices in California, is designed to be used with facial recognition, with no need for a smartphone application.

“It uses computer vision and a driving algorithm to have a clear path,” said founder Nicholas Chee.

The ForwardX suitcase also has gesture control technology and can be immobilised to protect against theft.

Chee said he expects the launch in mid-2018 at a price under $1 000.

Both Travelmate and ForwardX say their devices comply with US safety regulations because their lithium-ion batteries, banned in checked luggage, can be removed.

Also shown at the electronics expo was an auto-following suitcase from China-based 90FUN, which is already available in the Chinese market and is soon coming to the US. It uses self-balancing technology from personal transport-maker Segway.

And finally, for the weariest of travellers is a luggage product called the Modobag, which lacks artificial intelligence but offers a sizeable perk instead: it’s a ride-on suitcase that can carry its owner along with their clothes. — AFP

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