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The transformation of the suitcase

The unveiling of the self-driving suitcase makes me want to leap with joy

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From steel trunks to lightweight suitcases, some of us have come a long way. A childhood spent travelling from city to city every few years due to my father’s postings in the army entailed a lot of packing and unpacking.

My mother was chief organiser and, as soon as we learnt of our latest move, out came the steel trunks and wooden crates. The young ones were given one trunk each to store their worldly goods while the packing of all the household stuff was left to the adults. This was the do-it yourself-age before the advent of packers and movers. We moved from one place to another by train with countless trunks and crates in tow, not forgetting our dogs.

Now, all of us have a collection of suitcases, big and small, and the variety is a telling reflection on the evolution of this piece of luggage. The really huge ones are heavy and capacious but not ideal for modern-day travel. As we spread our wings and make our way to distant shores, we are mindful of the weight restrictions of airlines. So, we shop for the lightest suitcase which glides along, almost on its own steam. If you are headed for Europe, the 20kg limit seems pitiful. But if you are going to the US, you are thrilled by the two-suitcase allowance with a limit of 46kg. However, you must keep in mind that it will be you who has to carry the weight around. If you are hopping from city to city, it is not the most convenient way to travel.

For someone like me, just getting that suitcase off the conveyor belt at the airport is a Herculean task. In this age of gender equality, it is rare to find someone (a man obviously) who will offer to help. In many foreign cities, one has to pay for use of the trolley which means making sure you have enough small change in that currency.

So, size does matter in this case. And, if you are only entitled to 20kg, you want your suitcase to weigh next to nothing. We all know that airports nowadays are massive in area and one has to be prepared for a long walk. I have had the worst of luck with trolleys. I somehow manage to pick the only dodgy one whose wheels seem to go in different directions. I waste time wondering if I should put it back and get another but my mind is on that conveyer belt and the luggage coming through. I decide to keep it, a decision I rue later.

Reading about the unveiling of the self-driving suitcase makes me want to leap with joy. The robot suitcase from US start-up Travelmate can be controlled by a phone app and can roll alongside its owner at speeds of up to 11km/h, navigating around obstacles. It can roll at a pace to match that of its user or it can be directed with the app just like a drone. There is a competing offering from ForwardX, a Chinese start-up, which is designed to be used with facial recognition, without need for a smartphone app. It can be immobilised to protect against theft.

And as if this weren’t enough to fill me with joy, there is a luggage product called the Modobag which offers a perk. It can carry its owner along with their clothes. This is music to the ears of the weary traveller.

All these delights were on show at the 2018 CES in Las Vegas, to help solve a weighty problem.

If, in the near future, you see someone coasting along atop a suitcase at an airport, it could just be me. Happy days are ahead.

Vanaja Rao is a freelance writer based in Hyderabad, India.

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