By Sebastian Modak. Photos: Courtesy Travelmate.
A snapshot of the near future: You're speed-walking through a bafflingly designed airport, coffee in one hand, phone screen boarding pass in the other, minutes from your gate closing; a few feet behind you, your carry-on suitcase deftly weaves through the crowds all on its own. That, at least, is how Travelmate Robotics, a San Francisco-based company set on creating the first "true fully autonomous suitcase," sees it.
Launched with a crowdfunding Indiegogo campaign last year, the now fully funded project will begin shipping robots in three different sizes in June to its original backers, according to the Indiegogo page (the company did not immediately respond to a request for confirmation about the current state of production).
With your smartphone as its hub, the suitcase uses artificial intelligence and an array of sensors to follow you while avoiding obstacles. It moves both upright or flat on its side, like an oversized Roomba, and unless you're Usain Bolt, its max speed of 6.75 miles per hour will have no trouble keeping up with you. The robot also responds to voice commands ("Stop!") or simple hand gestures (a promotional video shows the suitcase pirouetting in response to a hand-spinning motion). Along with the digital weight system and device-charging capabilities we've come to expect from next-generation suitcases, Travelmate cases also lock and unlock using a fingerprint in addition to a conventional, TSA-compliant locking mechanism.
The suitcases have a battery life of 4 hours in fully autonomous mode, and when it's dead you'll just have to carry it temporarily like a normal suitcase. Some other fun features? You can name it whatever you like and it will respond to commands—like if you're a Star Wars nerd, "BB-8" can do your bidding; ultra-sensitive "omni" wheels mean it can navigate tight turns to avoid kneecapping stranger; the inclusion of a camera mount close to the handle means a Go-Pro or 360 camera doubles the case as your personal camera operator; and LED lights not only serve as a battery life display, but also make you look like you're from the Tron universe.
If you're concerned about theft, the Travelmate suitcase comes with an embedded GPS chip that'll let you track it on the corresponding smartphone app, and users can select a function that'll lock its wheels when it senses it's stopped following you. It's a lot harder to run away with a suitcase with wheels that don't work.
Travelmate thinks the hands-free suitcase is just the beginning—it eventually wants to make the product into a full-fledged travel butler. According to a press release shared with Condé Nast Traveler the company hopes to add a voice assistant and functionality that'll allow you to book a ticket or find a nearby restaurant, just by talking to your suitcase. According to those plans, when it's not on the road, the suitcase would be able to link into your smart home setup and assist with everything from security to fulfilling basic tasks around the house.
The suitcase comes in three sizes—S, M, and L—with current prices set at $399, $495, and $595 respectively, all currently available for pre-order. (Note: Available information suggests that early backers will receive their units at least a month before pre-orders made now.)
Keep in mind you won't see these bags zipping around airports tomorrow; Travelmate seems on pace for a June release, but crowdfunding campaigns don't always live up to their promises. Another robotic suitcase with similar capabilities, the tragically named Cowarobot, raised more than $570,000—almost four times its goal—on Indiegogo as of September 2016, but the section on the company's website for its two suitcases provides scant information beyond a "Coming Soon" banner. The product's last update on March 30, 2017 says "outdoor tests" are underway, even though the original campaign listed an estimated first shipping date of October 2016.
Here's to hoping Travelmate has better luck getting their robots to market. We're going to go ahead and say this could be the droid you've been looking for.
This story originally appeared on Conde Nast Traveler.
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