A certain type of person might look at the Cowa Robot Suitcase and say (with an irritated, world-weary sigh), “A smart suitcase? Really? When will this Internet of Things end?” I am not that person, and if you are, I have some bad news for you.
The Internet of Things (IoT) has no end. It will never stop. There is no product, however trivial, on the do-not-upgrade list. At a CES Asia keynote, Huawei’s Kevin Ho stated that right now there are about two IoT devices for every person on earth. By 2040, that number will skyrocket to 1000 per person. Food aside, I’m pretty sure that’s as many items as I own.
TVs got smart. Watches got smart. Toothbrushes, baby clothes, and mattresses are getting smart. So why not give suitcases a chance? This is what progress looks like: little ideas that push the ball forward, sometimes rubbing people the wrong way as it goes.
We don’t necessarily need to applaud it. The suitcase could be terrible. Who knows? There wasn't a fully operational demo model on the CES Asia show floor. What we should do is applaud the idea.
The wide-eyed enthusiasm of the developer I spoke with was infectious. She adored this product. To see this silly little suitcase spinning around on a catwalk, surrounded by fashion models, while a robotics engineer jubilantly rattled off the list of features… it was everything you want the future to be: optimistic, clever, and a little gaudy. Check your irony at the door.
OK, now we can talk about the suitcase.
The Cowa Robot suitcase is the first consumer product from a team of roboticists previously working in the B2B sector. Their enthusiasm is, perhaps, only matched by their naiveté about consumers and how willing they are to completely relearn how to use a suitcase.
There are just so many features on this thing. So many. If Samsonite, Victorinox, or any other name brand had added just one of these features to its product line, it could have justified a booth at CES. As it stands, Cowa brought a six-course chef’s menu to a backyard picnic.
The most gee-whiz feature is, without a doubt, the fact that the suitcase follows you around using a motorized wheel. OK—it doesn’t really follow you. Instead, it follows a smart bracelet that you wear. Walk forward, and like a reasonably intelligent dog, it follows, avoiding obstacles as it moves using technology similar to robot vacuums.
If you’re separated from the suitcase by more than three meters, the bracelet emits an audible ping. If that gap increases to 10 meters, it vibrates and sends a push notification to your phone. But as long as you’re within 50 meters, the suitcase should be able to roll on over to you.
Of course, if you’re 49 meters away from your expensive looking, self-driving suitcase, that’s a pretty tempting offer for a thief. And while the GPS will likely be able to show you a realtime map of his getaway route, what are you going to do about it? Dude’s got your bag.
But let’s continue with the list of features. There’s a very fancy lock on the side that can be opened from a phone or using the bracelet. It’s TSA-approved, as well, so security can do their thing without breaking it.
All of this has to be powered, of course, so there’s a battery tucked inside that's good for a remarkable 20+ kilometers of motorized range—more than enough for a weekend getaway.
If you bother to put a battery in a suitcase, you open up a whole world of possibilities. Cowa explored them all. In addition to the motorized wheels and lock, there are (count ‘em) four USB ports to charge your mobile devices, and even a light-up logo.
A pop-out door on the side stores your laptop and smaller items, and also provides access to the battery. The main compartment is, well, what you'd expect from a suitcase. It's a big box you can put your clothes in.
All in all, the suitcase is probably fine. It’s the sort of product that has a dozen features you’ll never use, but one you find yourself unable to live without after a while.
Pricing and where to buy
Cowa has two models in the works, tentatively named the Robot and the Smart. Both are launching on Kickstarter this June.
The Robot, which includes all of the nifty features enumerated above, has an MSRP of $650. However, for the first 100 lucky Kickstarter supporters, the price is just $399.
The Smart version (which isn't self-driving one, but is perhaps more practical) doesn't have a price or final specs. While it won't follow you around, it will have geo-location features.